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Digital Harmony 

On the Complementarity of Music 
and Visual Art 


John Whitne; 


Digital Harmony 

On the Complementarity of Music and Visual Art 

John Whitney 

Byte Books/A McGraw-Hill Publication/Peterborough New Hampshire 

Copyright (F) 1980 by John H. Whitney. 

No part of this hook may he used or reproduced 
in any manner whatsoever without written 
permission except in the case of brief quotations 
embodied in critical reviews and articles. 

Library of Congress Cataloging in 
Publication Data 

Whitney, John H. 

Digital Harmony 

Bibliography: p. 

Includes Index 

1. Art and Music. 2. Computer Drawing. 
3. Computer Composition. I. Title. 
ML3849.W5 700 80-22150 

ISBN 0-07-07001 5-X 

Type set in Times Roman typefaces by 
R S Typographies, Los Angeles. 

Printed by Kingsport Press, Kingsport, Tennessee 
on Warren's Lustro Offset Dull Enamel 
Book paper. 


When I first went to Paris, I did so instead 
of returning to Pomona College for my Junior 
year. Looking around, it was Gothic architec- 
ture that impressed me most. And of that ar- 
chitecture I preferred the flamboyant style of 
the fifteenth century. In this style my interest 
was attracted by balustrades. These I studied 
for six weeks in the Bibliotheque Mazarin, 
getting to the library when the doors were 
opened and not leaving until they were 
closed. Professor Pijoan, whom I had known 
at Pomona, arrived in Paris and asked me 
what I was doing. (We were standing in one 
of the railway stations there.) I told him. He 
gave me literally a swift kick in the pants and 
then said, “Go tomorrow to Goldfinger. I'll 
arrange for you to work with him. He's a 
modern architect." After a month of working 
with Goldfinger, measuring the dimensions of 
rooms which he was to modernize, answering 
the telephone, and drawing Greek columns, I 
overheard Goldfinger saying, “To be an 
architect, one must devote one's life solely to 
architecture." I then left him, for, as I ex- 
plained. there were other things that interested 
me, music and painting for instance. Five 
years later, when Schoenberg asked me 
whether I would devote my life to music, I 
said, “Of course." After I had been studying 
with him for two years, Schoenberg said, 
“In order to write music, you must have 
a feeling for harmony." I then explained to him 
that I had no feeling for harmony. 
He then said that I would always encounter 
an obstacle, that it would be as though 
I came to a wall through which 
I could not pass. I said, 
“In that case I will devote my life 
to beating my head against that wall." 

John Cage-A Year From Monday 

When I first went to Paris, I did so instead 
of returning to Pomona College for my Junior 
year. Looking around, it was Gothic architec- 
ture that impressed me most. And of that ar- 
chitecture I preferred the modest style of the 
eleventh-century. And in this style it was 
Chartres, the Royal Portal where I sat on the 
steps reading Henry Adams. Professor Kendall 
who conducted singing sessions at the 
Pasadena YMCA when I was in Junior High 
School appeared on the seat in front of me on 
my train to Italy. He was by then a Professor 
of Music at USC on sabbatical in Europe and 
touring Italy. I saw him again and again on 
this tour, and observed that he had no taste 
for the paintings of Giotto. My best friend in 
Paris, a native, claimed to be the principal 
Schoenberg authority in France whether he 
was or not. Certainly he was the only one 
teaching twelve-tone music composition in 
Paris in 1939 and I was briefly and informally 
one of his pupils. Two years later I explained 
to Arnold Schoenberg at UCLA that my 
friend, who was Jewish and who still lived in 
Paris, needed help to get out of Europe. But 
already Paris was an occupied city. No one 
could be helped who lived there. I too had a 
mind that harmony was a mere appendage to 
the body of music though my feelings for 
Beethoven and Schoenberg Quartets should 
have discredited that idea. It was not until 
many years later that I learned how important 
Pythagoras was to Islamic ideas of design. 
And later still when I learned how to deal 
with Pythagorean principles of harmony on 
the computer in a visual way. Now I apply the 
principles of digital harmony to both image 
and music. Now I understand what Arnold 
Schoenberg said to John Cage. 

John Whitney- Pacific Palisades- March 1979 



Foreword 4 

I. On With the Revolution! 13 

II. Beginning 21 

III. Concept 29 

IV. Problem - How Shall Motion Pattern Time? 37 

V. The Instrument - Not Pure Hypothesis - Not a Piano 47 

VI. The Idea of Differential Dynamics - Pythagoras Revisited 

VII. The Idea of a Scale in Music and in Visual Art 83 

VIII. The Role of Color and the Role of Music 89 

IX. Arabesque - An Analysis 97 

X. From Music to Visual Art and Back 115 

XI. Summary and Prospect 123 

XII. Do It Yourself 129 

Software Listings 134-137 

Appendix 138 
Bibliography 220 

Filmography 225 

Index 227 


1. Elemental differential dynamics 50 

2. Line plot of 12 sine curves 52 

3. TD and RD arrays 56-57 

* The chapters that teach digital harmony. 



6 . 


8 . 

10 . 

11 . 

12 . 








20 . 
21 . 

TD and RD arrays, different values 58-59 
TD and RD arrays, one whole number step 70-71 







Selected frames, Matrix III 
Selected frames, Matrix 
Selected frames, Matrix 
Selected frames, Matrix III 
Selected frames, Circles 
Selected frames, Circles 
Color pixel image by Information International Inc. 
Schematic of basic modulo action 98 
Schematic of first 360' cycles 99 
Selected frames, Arabesque section one 
Selected frames, Arabesque section two 
Selected frames, Arabesque section three 
Selected frames, Arabesque section four 
Selected frames, Arabesque section six 
Selected frames, Arabesque section seven 
Selected frames, Arabesque border 112 









Audio-Visual Music: Color Music - Abstract film, 1944 138 

Audio-Visual Music and Program Notes, 1946 144 

Moving Pictures and Electronic Music, 1959 151 

ASID Talk and Belgian Competition, 1963 156 

Aspen Design Conference, 1967 167 

John Whitney at Cal Tech, 1968 170 

Interview with John Whitney, 1970 174 

Animation Mechanisms, 1971 183 

Computer Art for the Video Picture Wall, 1971 190 

Cranbrook Essay, 1973 198 

Democratizing the Audio-Visual Arts, 1974 207 

Computational Periodics, 1975 210 

Digital Pyrotechnics, 1977 213 

Film Music, 1977 216 



This book records the exploration of a single hypothesis, and reveals 
some modest triumphs as well as a curious problem which remains unre- 
solved. Had this story begun in 1838 instead of 1938, there would have 
been nothing provisional or problematical in a young person’s decision 
to make his way somewhere in the field of the arts or music as I have 
done. This century’s destabilizing impact upon the arts from the Dadaist 
movement in the first or second decade to the present also rattles indi- 
vidual careers. Although it may be curious that my work, at its apex, 
appears to be both hypothetical and revolutionary, widespread late- 
century equivocations and tentative new directions unsettle the arts gen- 
erally, and this history reflects that influence. 

Richard Wagner’s revolutionary career - personally, musically and 
technically - reveals little that was hypothetical or conditional about his 
life or his ideas. Even though he strained the conventions of harmony, 
the conventions themselves remained secure; there was no question 
about their validity. They were founded upon the harmony, the estab- 
lished laws of Pythagoras, that bulwark of music which Pythagoras had 
hypothesized and proved centuries before Wagner’s assaults. 

While not meaning to compare myself with that nineteenth century 
titan (1813-1883), I wish merely to contrast the two ages. Consider the 

The late Harold Rosenberg referred to . . the profound crisis that 
has overtaken the arts in our epoch. Painting, sculpture, drama, music 
have been undergoing a process of de-definition. The nature of art has be- 
come uncertain. At least, it is ambiguous. No one can say with assurance 


what a work of art is - or, more important, what is not a work of art.”* 

Indeed, “The nature of art has become uncertain,” and for one 
sizeable block of composers, that grand Pythagorian certainty - the 
harmony - has come apart. Even so, the foundation of my work rests 
first upon laws of harmony, then in turn, upon proof that the harmony 
is matched, part for part, in a world of visual design. This is my hypothe- 
sis. This book, a record of the formulation of that hypothesis, will show 
how it has evolved as the basis for a life work. If hypotheses are rare 
in art, proof within a lifetime is rarer still. Proof in these times, Harold 
Rosenberg and many others would observe, is hardly likely, and there 
resides my curious problem. 

This hypothesis assumes the existence of a new foundation for a new 
art. It assumes a broader context in which Pythagorean laws of harmony 
operate. These laws operate in a graphic context parallel to the estab- 
lished context of music. In other words, the hypothesis assumes that the 
attractive and repulsive forces of harmony’s consonant/dissonant patterns 
function outside the dominion of music. Attractions and repulsions 
abound in visual structures as they become patterned motion. This singu- 
lar fact becomes a basis for visual harmony with a potential as broad as 
the historic principles of musical harmony. 

Stravinsky is known to have remarked, “Harmony is dead.” He 
meant what I imagine Arnold Schoenberg might have observed before 
him, that late nineteenth-century practice of harmony was indeed 
moribund. Even so, the physical fact of the low-order ratios of pitch 
relations (octave, fifth, fourth, and thirds) is simply Pythagorean physical 
fact, and as real as pigment and canvas are to the painter. (My use of 
the term “harmony” throughout this book refers to that physical fact 
of orderly ratio in both its horizontal and vertical [linear and simul- 
taneous] meaning.) 

This book documents how the application of graphic harmony, in 
that “real” sense of ratio, interference and resonance, produces the same 
effect that these physical facts of harmonic force have upon musical 
structures. The book points to these forces of visual harmony at work in 
a number of my recent films. 

*The De- Definition of Art (New York, 1972), p. 12. 


There remains a need for confirming demonstrations of that hypothe- 
sis in a larger body of work. Art, unlike science, is proved by art alone, 
not by mock-scientific experiment in the isolated case. Meanwhile, more 
exploration of the hypothesis continues by the only means available to 
the artist in this medium - by more work on film, tape or videodisc. 

This book proposes to share the process of confirmation, study and 
productivity with others. The dimensions of this hypothesis, expanded in 
the decade since its conception, grew beyond the limits of my individual 
study. I would hope that others will find on these pages adequate primary 
lessons in digital harmony to begin explorations for themselves. Chap- 
ter XII includes listings and descriptions of three simple programs 
intended to provide the essential primary principles with which anyone 
may begin* 

Secondarily, this book demonstrates an example of technology’s 
impact upon a career. Again, compare the ages. Wagner was not obliged 
to invent the symphony orchestra. The instrumentation needed to ac- 
complish his revolution was simply amply available. 

By contrast, a twentieth-century invention favored by some artists - 
the movie camera - has undergone many refinements requiring a 
constant reinvention of technique. This expensive instrument, and its 
associated lab processes, may be obsolete before the next century. 

Indeed, as indicated in the second section of this foreword, motion 
picture technology has been practically eliminated from my current 
artworks - its place in production is being taken over by computer-related 
and video processes. 

Computer technology has been available to a few artists for less than 
two decades. At the same time that computers are becoming household 
utensils, a mixture of high expectation and stubborn opposition surrounds 
the tentative use of these instruments for art. About the computer’s 
applicability in art there will be much more to say throughout the book. 

The purpose of this book, then, is to define, as much as I understand 
them, the principles of harmony as they apply to graphic manipulation of 
dynamic motion-pattern by computer. Whether my efforts constitute a 
final valid grammar is irrelevant. The purpose is to document my own 

*A workbook is in planning stages as I write this. 


approach and to propose the seminal idea of making an approach. I 
suggest there may be more than one approach needed to establish this 
lively new visual art. In the chapters to follow, I will attempt to describe 
an art that is to be seen and heard, diverse in its potentials both for 
narrowcast (fine art) and broadcast (popular art). I expect to see an art 
that will show well on the video screen and in a new kind of theatre and 
gallery; it will be played everywhere on videodisc. 

Words On My Hardware and Processes 

Small computers have sufficient graphic capability for what I will be 
discussing here. Mine is an Andromeda Systems LSI-11, a 16-bit machine 
that operates on programs in Pascal similar to those discussed and 
listed in Chapter XII. The overall procedure is to generate graphic action 
sequences to be recorded one frame at a time with a camera of some 
sort (video, 8, 16 or 35mm movie camera). My graphic display terminal 
is a Tektronix 4002 (an old model, but one which I found to be well 
designed for my use). 

At present I am in the process of installing a complete digital music 
composing capability. As I will explain in detail on these pages, image 
and sound must ultimately be composed hand in hand by techniques that 
were unavailable before. Of course, faster equipment would be useful for 
instant real-time playback of image with sound. 

Already there exist numerous personal computers that provide an 
approximation of sufficient programming power, including musical and 
graphic capability, to generate design such as I will describe in this book. 
Small computers are available that have one-frame-at-a-time capability, 
at non-real-time frame generation speeds. Only a few weeks after I spoke 
at the First West Coast Computer Faire in 1977, a very young man 
showed me his working example of the basic action design of my film 
Arabesque which I had projected and analyzed. He worked out the 
action pattern so as to run slowly, in real-time, on his Apple Computer. 

My current procedure is to generate 2- to 10-second actions (or some 
longer than 1-minute sequences) which are filmed by a 35mm motion 
picture camera mounted above the Tektronix cathode beam display which 
is placed, face up, at the exact focal plane of the camera. The computer 
program sends a signal output that switches the camera for a one-frame- 


at-a-time exposure after the CRT image has been computed and dis- 
played. Sometimes the system is run day and night, without needing my 
attention, to complete a complex sequence that I have planned. 

The film is developed in my own processor and then run on a film 
viewer, when, for the first time, I can judge if my planning was right and 
if the action quality conforms to my vision of its function, and whether I 
find in it some relevance to the larger scheme of a complete work. 

In the past, making Arabesque for example, a “library” of these 
black and white action sequences was accumulated on film over a period 
of months; each action was selected by that slow process of judging, 
one at a time, many many trial sequences, and selecting only those 
which seem to fit my growing discernment of a broad “design” for a 

In the making of Arabesque , I edited and compiled the final film in 
color. At that time, editing was not a computer process but, more or less, 
a standard film editing routine involving an optical printer with color 
filters at the source of illumination. Any black-and-white film of a com- 
puter sequence can be copied onto color film in any color by use of my 
optical printer. Now, however, and more so in the future, the techniques 
will translate into operations with digital computers and video editing 
practice. Direct, interactive color control, the repertoire of video synthe- 
sis of texture and feed-back type image enhancement will colorize and 
“orchestrate” my basic computer-generated action compositions. 

Words of Thanks 

Many persons assisted me in the preparation of this book. First I wish to 
name a few of the several people from computer science fields who 
repeatedly displayed patience and genuine interest throughout the past 
fifteen years and so aided my progress enormously. 

Dr. Jack Citron of IBM, Fredrick B. Thompson, Ph.D., at CalTech 
and Dean Anshultz, Ph.D., at Information International Inc.; all possessed 
a broad understanding of my needs for computational particularities and 
supplied them generously. 

With Larry Cuba, the pattern changed: a new generation and a new, 
specialized interest has surfaced. The change with him is his clear 
intent to specialize as an artist in this field. He assisted in the making of 


Arabesque and shares with me many of the problems of design and 
programming which need continuing study. 

Paul Rother came to my studio with similar ideas of reciprocating, 
and he stayed to do all the Pascal programming I presently use. Without 
his help, the listings of Pascal programs in Chapter XII would not be so 
concise and organized. 

Of this generation, now there are more. Scott Kim, Paul Newell, Jack 
Bowman, Augustine Lai, David Butterfield, Richard Moszkowski and 
others, each has made a contribution. The list is incomplete; still I wish 
to thank each one. 

My wife Jackie has given much assistance, and her insight was an 
asset on a broad range of matters pertaining to this book. Before our 
marriage she was an independent painter - exhibiting (and selling) with 
a free and lively sense of direction; then, throughout my years of film 
making, her extraordinary intuitional and critical sense was always 
present. She participated in some of the most spontaneously creative 
moments of my film work. And still, meaningful to our married lives, 
her attention and love within our five-fold family is crucial. 

We have three mature sons, involved with film more and less. I was 
blessed by their triadic diversity which continues to bestow benefits 
by their criticism and assistance with this book. Their names are John, 
Michael and Mark (apostolicism neither intended nor offered). 

Then there is my brother, James Whitney, whose career is as long 
lasting as Jackie’s and mine, and serenely consistent. The diversity of 
our personal dispositions pointed us in different directions early. I ad- 
mired and envied his patience, discipline and craftmanship. Curiously, a 
powerful motive to probe deeper into the maelstrom of electro-optical 
machine technology - largely my way with machines - was ostensibly 
to match what he made by hand. 

At one point we spent months building an optical machine. The ma- 
chine was for his use, made by his labor; I only advised him. He made 
one extraordinary film with that machine.* I was away. When I returned, 
he had removed it all from his studio - “to preserve his sanity,” he 
said. For a few years, he abstained from filmmaking altogether; instead 

*Sce James Whitney's film Lapis , and all his recent films. 


he perfected a skill at producing Raku pottery, a natural antidote. His 
current film work is distinctive for its maturity and his philosophical 
mastery of his own personal form. 

It is my brother I thank, along with Jackie. Each has helped me to 
maintain a measure of balance, within the easily exceeded limits of 
technological applications in the arts. 

My friend, Pearce Young, former Judge of the Superior Court of 
Los Angeles, Rhodes Scholar and former member of the California 
State Legislature, proved to be exactly the willing expert this first book 
needed. In truth, his help was obviously more valuable for his lively 
interests which relate to his pioneering encouragement of home comput- 
ing through his contributions to the founding of the Southern California 
Computing Society and his many present interests in the development of 
computer-aided educational programs. 

William Moritz, Ph.D., critic, film maker, poet, and deeply involved 
student of the avant gardes of film, accepted my request for help in 
balancing my perspective on the filmmaking of my contemporaries, some 
of whom approach design problems similar to those I have studied. Not 
having used a word processor, he was amused with mine and it de- 
veloped that he sat at the terminal working closely with me for many 
productive sessions, bringing this book into much better shape than it 
once had. If filmmakers are critical of my ideas regarding aspects of 
their medium today, they should turn their attention towards me, not the 
good doctor Moritz. For I argued with him and, of course, prevailed, it 
being my book. But I owe William Moritz much gratitude for his help 
and for editing the appendix and creating the index. 

Lawrence Morton provided advice on the subject of music. I needed 
to be reminded that I am neither authoritative nor professional in matters 
of music. Lawrence Morton is professional. He is one of the most dearly 
admired men of music on the western side of the United States having 
been involved in creating highly respected contemporary chamber music 
concert programming in Los Angeles and Ojai throughout the second 
half of this century. He applied his thoughtful attention to musical detail 
and has contributed much to the book. However I could not begin to 
satisfy his rigorous requirements for the language of music; I needed to 
stretch conventional meaning again and again. He is blameless for this. 


I may, or may not, have gained anything by my literary innovation. 

Finally I needed assistance from someone who would know what I 
did not know about contemporary art and American artists throughout 
the period of my own struggles, as Brian said, “at the barricades of an 
art frontier.” Brian O’Doherty’s role as an editor of Art in America and 
his present position with the National Endowment for the Arts certainly 
overqualified him, while it honored me to receive his help. 

This book is designed by Ron Rozzelle. We have a bond of under- 
standing about design problems; we were both associated with the office 
of Charles and Ray Eames, though at separate times. Most who knew 
and worked in and out of the Eames design office over the past thirty 
years have come away with a bond of some sort. Work there was almost 
always a difficulty bearing with it a genuine sense of accomplishment 
which we always shared finally at the grandest conclusions. I know 
we will share that sense of accomplishment when this book goes 
to press. Ron is tireless. 

My deepest gratitude and sincere thanks go to Ed Kelly, Nicholas 
Bedworth, Sheila Hayward and Ellen Klempner of Byte Books for their 
consistent help and cooperation in the making of this book. 

Pacific Palisades, July 1980. 


Chapter I 

On With The Revolution 

Another major media revolution, ranking with sound for the movies, 
radio, or the upheavals of TV, will soon introduce wonderful inventions 
into the home. The videodisc, a new product in the marketplace, will 
generate the greatest potential for change usually associated with this 
kind of turnover. The videodisc’s ingenious application of digital repro- 
ducing technology combines microscopic sight and sound tracks of 
great technical efficiency and economy. 

Being an early partisan, I trained with computers for years, under- 
ground, preparing for the day when videodiscs would take over the mar- 
ketplace. I dreamed in “video music’’ and plotted secret revolutionary 
fusions and transfusions of the arts. More on this will be discussed later. 

As is usual in the tumult of revolutions, a promising application for 
the videodisc’s sight-and-sound intermix languishes more in confusion 
than in hope. Yet an inevitable artistic application, which I will describe, 
should popularize an exciting and innovative fusion of music and visual 
art. The future of an integral aural/visual art is assured by wide distribu- 
tion through the videodisc’s economics and logistics. What would an 
integral aural/ visual art be like? And what’s new about it? 

A1 Jolson’s voice and his picture on the screen were about the only 
aural/visual components of the “art’’ of the first sound movie. Between 
that day and now, much has happened in the worlds of art. Both the fine 
arts and the popular arts have been changed by de-definition and even 
ephemeralization. Cross-fertilization and synthesis opened many eyes 
and ears to new and different points of view regarding art and music. So 
it is timely to compare the perception of music with the viewing of art. 

See p. 132 for a description of these chapter heads. 


Most people visualize music as two-dimensional, with time repre- 
sented by the horizontal lines and pitch by vertically arrayed symbols, as 
is the convention on paper. But the perception of music is not two di- 
mensional. The ears reside at the center of a spherical domain. We hear 
from all around. We hear music as patterns of ups and downs, to and fro 
in a distinctly three-dimensional architectonic space - a space within. 

The eye, more outwardly oriented, perceives objects and events out- 
side at the point where our eyes focus. Yet the eye enjoys design equally 
as well as the ear. The mind’s eye shares with the ear any inward expe- 
rience of architectonic spatial constructions and would perceive them 
with the same pleasure, were they to exist. 

The fact is, however, that these interior fluid visual edifices hardly 
exist. Anyone can visualize an architectural fantasy of music dancing in 
the head, but manifesting it in reality is another matter! Each century 
since Leonardo, a vision, grand and obscure as its myth, compelled one 
or two inventors to struggle with the pathetic inadequacies of the color 
organ. Twentieth-century abstract art has been a training ground for 
visual response to musical experience, but in the mind’s eye, architecture 
in motion lies at the root of our enjoyment of music. Many people, with 
closed eyes at a concert, are “watching” the music, but after all these 
centuries, there still exists no universally acceptable visual equivalent 
to music! It should exist, and it will soon. Incidentally, it will surely not 
be called “video music.” 

Many people whose innermost responses, in fact, fit the above 
description, are nevertheless apprehensive about the idea of abstract musi- 
cal architectonics; they imagine music to be exclusively representational. 
Some visualize those descriptive images called upon by the romantic 
composers of tone poems, while others falter with literal “realities” by 
associating music with images of conductor, performer, opera star, rock 
star - even the occasionally lurid images of pop music lyrics. 

Besides the technicalities, then, this is another reason why there 
exists no universally acceptable visual equivalent to music. Also we may 
observe that many more people consider music a totality by itself. Music 
does not need images any more than paintings need sound. (Of course, 
this does not invalidate the hypothesis presented here.) 

The exact perceptual experience of music needs a more precise term 

14 On With the Revolution! 

than the lame metaphor “architecture.” There are no words for the 
dynamics of architectonic pattern which stress the fluidity and diverse 
expressiveness of musical motion. The ear perceives patterns of tone 
by means of infinitesimal inflections of microscopic bundles of air: the 
tonal “clay” the composer sculpts is flexible and dynamic. Newton’s 
laws of mass or thermodynamic laws do not cease when a string quartet 
performs. Air moves more swiftly, and easier than clay or paint. Almost 
any material an artist might select is too sluggish to sculpt in time and 
motion - too languid or too inertial for a visual medium meaning to 
imitate music, or to vie with music’s dynamism* 

In the last third of this century, we acquired a visual medium which 
is more malleable and swifter than musical airwaves. That medium is 
light itself. While it was always available, the means to modulate light 
precisely and faster than sound (on a cathode-ray computer display, for 
example) is a very recent practicality. Musical instruments that modulate 
the air medium of hearing are now matched by other instruments which 
modulate, with greater exactitude and speed, the light medium of sight. 

These two will make a surprisingly happy combination, provided the 
influences of musical tradition do not dominate or dampen the potential 
vitality of the visual sibling. The audio-visual tracks of the videodisc 
obviously are best suited for this balanced complementary partnership of 
sound and sight. 

In the sense that the natural laws of acoustical physics must have ac- 
companied the evolution of atmosphere on earth, laws of harmony must 
have accompanied the very evolution of human musical culture, long be- 
fore Pythagoras. But in spite of the extraordinary successes of the classic 
composers, and in spite of the facts of harmonic law, many composers 
of this century have rejected principles of harmonic relationships and 
tonality. The “crisis” of contemporary music noted by Pierre Boulez and 
others is due largely to this rather unpopular ongoing search for other 
principles with which to capture a world of “new musical resources.” 

Yet the art of music deals with harmonic laws of physics. The basic 
intervalic ratios of tuning and tone sequence exist simply as physical 

*See Frank J. Malina, Kinetic Art (New York, 1974); Frank Popper, Origins and Development of 
Kinetic Art (New York, 1968); and George Rickey, Constructivism (New York, 1967). 


fact. Arnold Schoenberg told John Cage, “In order to write music, you 
must have a feeling for harmony.”* The truth of this remark was not 
diminished by Cage’s protest that he had no such feeling for harmony - 
just as the truth of physical law would not diminish were the late 
sculptor David Smith to have protested that he had no feel for the weight 
and mass of steel. 

Music doesn’t just pass time. Music shapes time. In the symphonies 
of Haydn and Mozart, repeating elements occur twenty to forty times. 
This amount of repetition (within a rhythmic pattern) seldom occurs in 
poetry, or prose or any of the other arts that evolve in time, except 
music. It is as if the composer states a figure, takes thirty or forty steps 
(beats of a driving rhythm), and follows that with another figure. The 
steps are hardly repeats. Steps along a flow of time take us from here to 
there in time just as surely as our footsteps transport us in space. Steps 
give shape to time, and they pace out the dimension of time, in that sense. 
Only harmonic order allows this. Even the tone of a drum shapes time . 0 

A crucial force of music - the harmonic interplay of tonal cohesion 
and gravity - punctuates time with resolution and with metric and rhyth- 
mic order. A crucial fact of musical art - the harmonic force (chordal or 
melodic) - works its way upon the sense of hearing whether or not the 
composer elects to shape this force for our ears or whether he remains 
a naive foil to its unbridled power. 

Briefly, the acquisition (intuitive and conscious) of harmonic princi- 
ples began the art of building with time as surely as civil engineering 
(also both intuitive and conscious) began the art of building with stone. 
Now we can “build” aural and visual compositions for videodisc. 

Today we apply harmonic laws to build visual structures. New 
instruments modulate light more accurately and swiftly than musical in- 
struments modulate air. Considering time-structured arts of the future, 
we can create integral aural/ visual compositions in a domain of harmonic 
continuity. A universally acceptable visual art - an equal partner to music 
- is arriving hand in hand with current computer music developments. 

With these twin developments there follows a change in prospects 

*See Dedication, p. 1. 

oVictor Zuckerkandl, Sound and Symbol (New York, 1956), pp. 212-223. 

16 On With the Revolution! 

for music. Within this decade we will see that participants in search of 
“new musical resources” produced unexpected results. A major task as- 
sumed by a few composers at the opening of this century, beginning as a 
search for new musical resources beyond classical harmony, ends in a 
full-scale reevaluation of architectonic temporality of which - I submit - 
the history of music is only the first chapter. 

If, as is often charged against “modern music,” the wellsprings of 
harmonic vitality ran dry about a decade or two into this century, then 
perhaps all is about to flow once again, but now with complementary 
aural and optical resources. The imaginations of many composers includ- 
ing Scriabin, and painters, including Kandinsky, symbolize the ongoing 
search, over many generations and with inadequate technology, to dis- 
cover complementarity for eye and ear. Both Constructivism in art, seek- 
ing a rapport with music, and modern trends in music, probing for a 
way beyond its traditions by any and all means, will realize a kind of 
consummation through this complementarity. 

A composer may look forward to executing with his own hands an 
aural/ visual creation. Using a new kind of versatile instrumentation and 
compositional procedures, borrowing from computer programming and 
editing practice, this new composer will enjoy the practicality of hands- 
on execution of his own work. 

In contrast to visual artists, immediate, direct intuitive contact with 
his work was always the composer’s dilemma. Between composer and 
his music “lurks” portentously - in triumph or for disaster - his in- 
terpreter, soloist or ensemble. But now, digital instrumentation (the next 
phase of computer technology in the arts) provides the capability to 
modify, over and over, and reshape a composition without signal degen- 
eration. In effect, a composer becomes the performer of his own creation 
for better or for worse; this responsibility was traditionally assumed by 
both the painter and sculptor without question. 

When the instruments are available, composers will find a visual 
medium hand in hand with the musical medium, both with the same 
editing and viewing and reedit capabilities. This intimate sensuous 
contact with his work creates a new role for composer-performer 
in a way unprecedented in five hundred years of musical instrument 


Composers will discover a congruence of aural-visual partnership as 
productive as that which they found for centuries in writing for combina- 
tions of all kinds - keyboard, skin, string or wind. That partnership will 
be grounded on valid harmonic interrelationships equally applicable to 
sound and image. The creative product of these new composers will go 
directly to the videodisc publisher. 

I started this chapter with reference to myself, a media “revolution- 
ary,” training underground for the day which is dawning even as I write 
this book. It has been a long time coming. Early in the fifties, I believed 
that this wondrous day had come - or would come next month, or next 
year. In truth more than forty years have passed since the beginning of 
my story. In the next chapter I shall begin at the beginning. 

18 On With the Revolution! 


Chapter II 



The geometry of iron rivets in iron plates painted white, the lines at the 
edge of a plate, and the rolling, shifting shadow cast by all of these, 
especially at the curve of a plate - I tried to film these fragments that I 
saw in a cine camera viewfinder aboard a Rotterdam-bound freighter 
during the summer of 1938. Fernand Leger or an artist at the Bauhaus 
might have painted such geometry as I saw it through the eyepiece. But 
my ideas were not like theirs - I didn’t know about them. I was trying to 
compose music, not painting. I knew little about living painters, abstract 
art, Arnold Schoenberg or what I was going to do with myself. Much 
music had touched me, I knew that. And at my age, it seemed “schizoid” 
to love music plus cameras and telescopes, but I did (I had ground a 
mirror and built a telescope a few years earlier). I was frustrated with 
college, so here I was, halfway to Europe where surely, I thought, I’d 
find some sort of a worthwhile career and get started with my life. 

The wonder is that I did “get started.” A year or two later I wrote a 
friend that I had chosen art “and the lean way of life.” Bom in Califor- 
nia, of parents fresh from the Midwest, I had never known anyone who 
made money painting or writing poetry or music. Neither had Jackson 
Pollock nor Mark Rothko, nor would they for many years to come. Yet 
in fact I knew better than hundreds and hundreds of my contemporaries 
that I wouldn’t make money with art. I knew I was beginning a career in 
a kind of filmmaking that hadn’t been invented. Erroneously, I thought I 
had invented the very idea of an abstract cinema art that would look the 
way music sounded. 

With viewfinder focused on the white iron shipboard structure, I had 


thought to direct my camera by twisting and turning, and to “cut” from 
one take to another in rhythmic ways. I had no story to tell. This was 
composing “music” out of the motion of the camera. I had no intention 
to bring back home movies of this trip to Rotterdam. The trip was not a 
summer excursion; I had convinced my father it was a matter of some 
serious business having to do with my education and future. As it turned 
out, that film was unrhythmic and depressingly unmusical for a first ef- 
fort designed to begin my search for a new art that would look the way 
music sounds. 

The summer in Europe ended in Paris where I lived until the follow- 
ing summer. I attended two glorious performances of the entire set of 
Beethoven string quartets during which my mind dwelt upon figurations 
in space. I could agree with music critics of Europe’s nineteenth-century 
flamboyant era, who wrote on and on about “liquid architecture.” I 
visualized that. I began to be convinced that such liquidity could be 
visualized - on film now - with twentieth-century art and technology. 
What I needed was more filmmaking skill and a way to point my camera 
at something that would not be as hopelessly static as that freighter’s 
iron plate. This prospect tended to temper and rejuvenate me, deflated as 
I was by the return from my single provocative year in Europe. 

Alas, the whole world is a static place when you compare it with 
Beethoven quartets! Then I learned that I hadn’t invented anything at all. 
Even Leonardo had sketched ideas of music and its likeness to colors. 
There had been more than one century of premature color-organ ex- 
perimenters. Again I was disappointed. Worse yet, after returning home, 

I learned that European filmmakers before me had made films which 
they called symphonies, such as Walther Ruttmann’s Berlin , Symphony 
of a City.* 

*It is not clear in my memory whether these “symphonic” efforts or those hand-drawn animations 
(meant to “illustrate” music) affected me most at this time. Between the mid-40s and the mid-50s, I 
read about (and no doubt I viewed examples of) most of the body of this “musical” work — films 
by Oskar Fischinger, Len Lye, Norman McLaren, Lotte Reiniger, Viking Eggeling, Hans Richter, 
Alexander Alexeieff, Mary Ellen Bute and Joris Ivens. All but Reiniger, Eggeling, Ruttmann and 
Ivens have since become personal acquaintances. Any one of them would, I believe, share with me 
the convictions expressed in this book, had they shared my experience with the late marvels of 
computer graphics. For further information on these animators, see Robert Russett and Cecile Starr, 
Experimental Animation (New York, 1976). 

22 Beginning 

I would have given up had I not known, in my youthful way of 
dreaming as much as thinking, that they were all wrong. I wondered if 
anyone else realized why every attempt at visualizing music had fallen 
hopelessly short of being as dynamic as music. Pointing their cameras 
at the world, all those “symphonists” inadvertently recorded the stasis 
of the world, even as they filmed its busiest moments - its winds and 
storms and birds and water and city traffic. Those films are not sym- 
phonies, I thought, poetry perhaps, but not liquid architecture, not music. 
I was charged with new excitement. I never debated my ability to find 
my way beyond these transparent failures. 

Those films were records of events on the surface of a gigantic body 
(Earth) whose mass and gravitation permeate everything with the im- 
mutable laws of motion. Not so with the motion of music. Its motions 
range from cosmic proportions to a tiny flutter in a medium of such 
fluidity that it seems to be unconstrained by inertia or gravity. I was 
convinced that the eye should see what the ear perceived in that aural 
cosmos. Obviously, I enjoyed the idea that I would find the way. 

I had tried to transcend stasis by plying the stock-in-trade of the 
movie camera, holding it in my hand while utilizing its own mobility on 
shipboard. Yet the more the camera moved, the more the world’s gra- 
tuitous motions, hither and yon, close up or distant, in front or behind, 
gave way to one common slur in one direction, flattened in another. The 
strongly spatial and multiplex polyphony of the real world gave way to 
flat blur. I did not like that-- this was not as it should be. It was just not a 
symphony. The optical equal of that deeply spatial experience of music 
would have to be found elsewhere. 

Found where? This question caused me to reflect upon the anatomy 
of musical “abstraction.” There is no such thing as the harmonic organi- 
zation of musical tone in nature. Occasionally a stone may ring like a 
bell, birds pattern “song,” but there are few natural bells, fewer natural 
flues where the winds sound organ tones. Even the whistle of wind is 
eerie and non-musical. Patterning of musical tones is a man-made reality 
of the aural world, universally accepted as such, but nowhere looked 
upon as an abstraction that has been extracted (or abstracted) out of the 
natural environment, nowhere regarded as a manifestation of the 


Musical tones are a special creation. They are abstract only in the 
sense that they are the raw material of the liquid architectonic structure 
of music. On the other hand, wherever I pointed my camera, I failed to 
discover that special quality of any material possessing the controllable 
visual fluidity that I desired. No abstraction in my camera had the gen- 
erative potential, the capability to propagate fluid patterns or especially, 
the liquid variability of the intervalic families of musical tones. 

Quite the contrary: pointing my camera anywhere resulted in record- 
ing images of somewhere. If the camera’s record is unclear, blurred by 
the smear of too fast panning or being out of focus, the sense of some- 
where as place is simply flattened. The spatial content of an image is 
flattened. The eye resists this attempt to domesticate abstraction. This 
sort of deception hardly satisfies the eye, because the sense of being (or 
seeing) somewhere is so strong. The eye is the natural master of pattern 
recognition. The eye demands satisfaction by invoking in us strong 
feelings of puzzlement. Our very eyes themselves ask, “What is it?’’ 
They strain to restore a blur to what it was supposed to be. Eye and 
brain make these demands, even by inducing nausea in the viewer if his 
sense of optical upright equilibrium is deceived on the screen. 

I concluded that the eye will not passively accept a filmmaker’s 
strategy when he assumes that, by obscuring the presence of place in the 
world, and by some gestural motion with his camera, the viewer will be 
“transported,” purposely, somewhere else, into a world of abstraction. 

I found that abstractions, so derived, possess no power to communicate 
anything except what I judged to be arbitrary formlessness even if that 
formlessness is shaped into some imposed pattern. I observed that “com- 
posing” camera motions in my shipboard film, for example, produced 
none of the potential of a generative grammar, as do musical tones. It 
was clear to me, tones possess remarkable generative potential, else 
their productive utility might have been exhausted in, say the eleventh- 
century. Tones are not shaped by the composer; he finds the shape in the 
tones and thereby discovers their generative potential. 

Moreover music is not an abstracted picture of anything. When 
Debussy painted (or composed) La Mer, pictures of the sea had little to 
do with his flute and bassoon figurations. Still, these soft meditations are 

24 Beginning 

evocative and just as lovely as the sea itself.* Why? Why do they move 
us as intensely as do childhood memories? And then, what of other feel- 
ings? What of the interior emotions evoked by the quartets of Beethoven? 
Overwhelming as they are, obviously these examples of “pure” music, 
these too, consist simply of figurations of tone and intensity. Yet how 
can musical patterns of an instrument or voice impact so profoundly 
upon one’s feelings? 

I became obsessed and charmed with such thoughts about the art of 
music - rhythm and harmony - and why just twelve tones were infinitely 
applicable. I began to explore ideas of creating structures of visual pat- 
tern. I commenced a search for the simplest building block, an alphabet, 
with which to construct an art of vision to match the art of music. 

I was pleased to find that a hero discovered during my year in 
Europe should now provide the hint, or model, for the next chapter in 
my life. Arnold Schoenberg’s principles of twelve-tone composition, 
while bearing only the most superficial similarities to my optical design 
problems, still influenced my film projects over the following years. 

During my winter in Paris I had been instructed in some of the basic 
principles of Schoenberg’s twelve-tone serial composing. Incompletely, 

I understood that a series or row of tones is constructed so that it can be 
transposed, retrogressed and inverted, forming an extensive array from 
which to draw all figurations of an entire composition. I did not under- 
stand that these techniques, more or less, were practiced by the Flemish 
polyphonists of the fifteenth- and sixteenth-centuries - and later by Bach. 

My concept of the tone row, subjected to these transpositions, inver- 
sions and retrogressions, seemed readily adaptable to a film sequence. 
Figuratively, but not in fact, I could translate tone-row to filmstrip. I 
learned only very slowly and reluctantly that what I presumed to be the 
new musical art of “atonalism” meant not the abandonment of harmonic 
principles but their reassertion outside established conventions in new 
ways and with new force. My filmstrips displayed not the least sugges- 
tion of any effect parallel to the harmonic forces at work within the 
musical tone row. 

*See Leonard Bernstein's analysis of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony in The Unanswered Question 
(Cambridge, 1976), p. 153 ff. 


Subtle intervalic interrelationships alter as the tone row is transposed 
up or down the twelve note positions just as in an earlier century a 
melody was altered by transposition into another key. They reform again 
by inversion or retrogression; all of this causes shifting and changing of 
the harmonic tensions and cohesions throughout. An image sequence 
seems to be well suited to the idea that it be inverted or mirrored. Any 
image, so treated, does suggest interesting symmetries. But it took a long 
while to comprehend that no visual action juxtaposed any way against 
itself, strung out sequentially as a (musical) variation upon itself, or cut 
into fragmentary figures for contrapuntal use - none of these had the 
impact that shifting harmonic forces do. In sum, no visual motion worked 
the way musical motion works. 

It seemed I hadn’t the slightest comprehension of the vast power of 
the workings of harmonic force in music. Why should I? I agreed with 
contemporary composer-friends (Cage and others) who discredited clas- 
sical harmony and tonality with revolutionary zeal. Some of those even 
had a mind to “elevate” a protesting Arnold Schoenberg (grossly mis- 
cast) to the role of their vanguard leader. They were as misinformed as 
I of Schoenberg’s true concepts but, by that time, I had begun to suspect 
that Cage and Schoenberg were as far apart as the earth and the most 
distant planet. 

My best effort to apply Schoenberg’s principles to film was not suc- 
cessful, not understood; nor was it ever properly analyzed. Instead, my 
attention passed from these inadequacies to a blanket rejection of pre- 
vailing ideas on the art of cinema. Film was not the technological art 
that would bring about a satisfying visualization of that liquid architec- 
ture as I had believed. 

The movie camera was, after all, only a recording machine, good for 
documentation or drama. How could a reproducing instrument serve to 
contribute to a new visual art, any more than, say, a sound-recording 
machine might contribute to the art of music? (This was before the inven- 
tion of the magnetic tape recorder which, for a short time, was indeed 
looked on as an instrument for composition.) Fortunately this sobering 
realization sent me searching ahead toward a single-handed effort to in- 
vent a machine that would be used as an instrument for composing 

26 Beginning 

this liquid architecture.* 

It was only after a decade of effort in another direction (with some 
compensating rewards along the way) that my tone-row/ film-row ex- 
perimental failures were clarified by a deeper understanding. More about 
this follows in Chapter III. 

*See Appendix, p. 183. 

Chapter III 


My earliest joy with building things had grown from telescopes to 
cinema. But with my final disillusionment regarding cinema came a chal- 
lenge to return to constructing a different kind of instrument for creating 
the visual fluidity which I foresaw. There followed about ten years of 
the most gratifying work. I patented an invention. I earned a reputation 
in professional motion picture circles as a pioneer in the development 
of slit-scan techniques and motion control systems. But in the end, 

I concluded that I was hardly a step closer to the visual fluidity which 
I desired* 

My conclusion was wrong. With mystical inadvertency, while pursu- 
ing my delight with obsolete but top quality ballistics control mechanisms 
(convertible into devices for generating visual fluidity), I discovered 
the computer. Moreover, my skill with these World War II analog prob- 
lem solving machines, and a film 0 I had produced with the conversions, 
demonstrated a respectable command of analog computer graphic 
technology. IBM executives acknowledged this with a generous and ex- 
tended series of research grants to pursue my quest for visual fluidity on 
a big computer. 

To review briefly, I thought that any visual art, structured in time, 
would need some generative building block - an alphabet or scale. I 
asked repeatedly what visual elementals might match the scales of tones 
of music with which numberless musical constructs can be created, or the 

*See Appendix, p. 183. 

° See my film Catalog, and Appendix, p. 167. 


alphabets by which an infinity of ideas is constructed. Now that I was free 
to explore, I soon found that for the first time in history, visual periodicity 
and harmonics were accessible to dynamic manipulation through the 
instrument of computer graphics. These provided the clue to the follow- 
ing events.* 

Of course, elaborate patterns of repetition and rhythm have been 
drawn, woven or chiseled into borders and decorations of all kinds since 
early ages. Considering arts techniques from the broad perspective of the 
present, I observed that the best “computer art” did not compare well 
with lacework from Belgium made a century ago. But the computer 
possessed a unique capability of making very complex pattern flow. One 
could plan exacting and explicit patterns of action and distinctive 
motions as intricate as lace, but in a way no Belgian lace maker would 
ever imagine. 

I concluded that through digital constructions of pattern, harmonic 
considerations might provide the basis for a graphic art of motion. I also 
concluded that this power of the computer to liquefy pattern, allowing 
complex design to flow with control, more than justified the difficulties 
of computer technology, Finally, I determined that the relationships of 
sight and sound would be served best if it were possible to compose 
both components of an aural /visual work within some common aes- 
thetic such as harmony would offer. All these potentialities lay before 
me, gathered within the central processor of any big computer with 
appropriate peripheral attachments. 

A question remained: What computer, whose computer? Despite the 
continuing annual renewal of grants from IBM, I envisioned a time 
when, by the rapid growth of the electronics industry and the diminution 
of the size and cost of the components, I might own my own computer. 
However, for the present, despite the generosity of my sponsor, my work 
at computer facilities was assigned the lowest priority. I longed for a 
workable relation with the world of technology other than by intermit- 
tent, short-term grants of support. 

At some time in the mid-sixties ad hoc committees within the art 
world were being formed to sponsor art and technology. I was im- 

*See Appendix, p. 167, and Gene Youngblood, Expanded Cinema (New York, 1970). 

30 Concept 

mediately elated; my creative needs might be recognized and fulfilled. 
Then, just as quickly, I was discouraged by obtuse, confused or empty 
attitudes that developed among people of influence. Excitement grew 
over projects that were formulated with bandwagon haste around this 
subject. As a fad that came and went, along with so many others of that 
decade, the art /technology “boom” left in its wake as much prejudice as 

The distribution of misunderstanding remained unchanged by all that 
effort on the part of artists, scientists, art museum curators and educa- 
tors. Claes Oldenburg’s gigantic icebag was perhaps a truer symbol than 
anyone guessed. The curious effort to co-mingle a few artists with a few 
huge corporations produced some exotic headaches. Of many art/ philo- 
sophical projects undertaken to deal with the impact of technology upon 
the modem world, few were more ineffectual. By contrast, the Bauhaus, 
a school with a similar philosophy of technology and art, and similar 
influence upon the public, continues to grow as a subject of books and 
exhibitions around the world. 

Over the centuries, the keyboard and other musical instruments were 
developed through a genuine cooperation between the fields of art and 
technology. This makes the recent project’s failure to shape more favor- 
able attitudes especially unfortunate, just when technologist and artist 
could have been collaborating, for example, on the instrumentation of 
electronic aural/visual arts and especially the dynamic control of video 
color phosphors. Of course, it remains a matter of greater importance that 
some deeper reconciliation and cooperation between art and science 
establish itself within this epoch. 

Along with this neglect of many real issues of art and technology, 
there flourished the widespread fear of the computer as Golem and 
personal fears of being “folded, rolled, misplaced or spindled.” These 
misapprehensions are still common. Many doubtful views became per- 
manently fixed after the art and technology grants were distributed. It 
was, conspicuously, a period of “cybernetic wrongheadedness.” 

With regard to the use of the computer as an instrument for art, 
misunderstanding afflicted both extremes. Some looked upon the com- 
puter as an anathema capable only of sterile mechanization. Others 
believed the computer needed only to be “trained right” in order to take 


over art productions. 

At this time, a popular and misguided attitude (which may be related 
to Duchamp or the intellectual interests in the I Ching) led to a kind of 
rage for randomness, chance and change. Computers were somehow 
believed to be superb “calculators” of random numbers (a hopeless con- 
tradiction) and in turn, random numbers were believed to have mystical 
power with art (a serious possibility). With striking “logic” this favorite 
collegiate notion grew: that poetry and music, “just about everything” 
could be created with computers by using random numbers. 

In the early seventies, a sizeable contingent of East Coast artists, 
intent on new careers, arrived at a West Coast institution because it 
looked as though the best opportunities with computers and technology 
and lasers (especially lasers) were at a new California “Bauhaus.” Soon 
they were gone again. All this new technology, for these practicing art- 
ists, presented a choice between the raw and the cooked; they elected not 
to struggle with such unpalatabilities. 

The early sixties had seen the beginning of a less transient movement 
of sorts, having to do with filmmaking as an individual artist’s move- 
ment - underground. Here, as later with the art and technology mix (or 
mixup), I was both invited in and invited out of the activities. While the 
existence of an American film avant-garde was acknowledged, including 
a peculiarly West Coast contingent (my brother and I were members 
of the abstract branch) all was soon subsumed by New York. 

There, in New York, film societies and spokesmen in both the press 
and books, were doing everything possible to recreate the atmosphere of 
Europe in the twenties. For a short part of that decade, in Paris and 
Berlin, some of the best artists, composers, poets and critics joined in 
what seems like a one-of-a-kind effort: to implant the artistic standard of 
their time into a very young technological film art. 

The European effort was soon abandoned and in the New York of 
the sixties, it was never appreciated by the vanguard of American artists, 
composers, poets or critics. The idea remained always “beneath” the 
avant-garde. This particular idea of film artist - distinguished from actor 
or director of commercial movies - was taken up by a group that derived 
satisfaction from its self-relegation to an underground. It became an un- 
derground of film, filmmaker and audience. The underground audience 

32 Concept 

grew large because a few underground films shortly became synonymous 
with pioneering acts of sex, underclothed (without even a stitch of under- 
clothes). Despite prudish outrage, this underground had its measure of 
success; it influenced the commercial motion pictures’s way with sex 
and it even initiated a few of commercial television’s rarely interesting 
new ways with design. 

Yet to this day the idea of an independent artist’s cinema remains 
ill-defined. There was hardly a movement, and the struggle to define one 
continues. It could be defined, of course, only by the existence of art 
works possessing the distinction of self-definition. The designation of 
film classic cannot be bestowed upon a film by a few writers, however 
much effort they commit to that end. Some work may achieve distinc- 
tion. But it is too late to define an independent artist’s cinema movement. 
The very depletion of silver resources and the sheer economics of film 
production, in competition with newer technologies, is bound to pre- 
clude that idea. What shall follow in its place? It will not be Polavision. 

It will be video. 

It is video that renders the intermittent silver ribbon obsolete. Com- 
mercial film makers of course will follow their own destiny but the per- 
sonal or independent “film artist’’ will surely abandon the film camera 
soon. All the projected sprocket holes, the dust and editing mechanics, 
lovingly incorporated into structuralist concepts of a generative grammar 
that derives from the materials of the media itself - all that will soon be 
relegated to the archives of museums. Selecting technical impedimenta 
of cinema, contrived deliberately for their films as a kind of self- 
conscious signing or symbology of the medium, fails to fulfill the 
function of a generative grammar. This class of film will seem rather 
quaint on future videodiscs.* 

A tacit assumption of both the art /technology and cinema under- 
ground activities devolves from ideas of the generative grammar. Noam 
Chomsky has asked the two pertinent questions: first, can new grammars 
be synthesized and second, are music and art rightly, languages? As far 
as I can discover, he has answered neither question. I believe, of course, 

*Regina Cornwell, “Progress - Discontinuous," Artforum , April, 1980, p. 60. 
J. Hoberman, "The Cinema of Structure," American Film, June, 1980, p. 12. 


there are ways to initiate a new language and a new grammar, but little 
in the contemporary arts leads us far in that direction. Little as I know 
about current efforts in this subject in Europe or the United States, I do 
observe a nimble disposition among the self-styled structuralist film- 
makers and the structuralist theoreticians in Europe. Structuralism’s sub- 
sumption of information-theory was breathtaking; with these theoreti- 
cians, at least, it would seem that theory is mercurial. 

Painting in this century discovered its structural elementals and its 
alphabet beneath its own burdensome impedimenta of style, representa- 
tion and tableaux. Painting’s basic structural elements proved to be, 
more or less, surface (canvas, support), pigment, shape, line and texture. 
For a decade, a coterie of cinema artists has strained to imitate their 
cousins, the painters, by creating their own dogma of structualist funda- 
mentals for cinema - which turned out to be sprocket holes and such 
signing, signals and symbols of the technology. I abandoned cinema as a 
particular tool, seeking to create motion out of the basic elements of any 
graphic art - color, line, shape - consciously composing every detail of 
the frame area and, by transforming the details from frame to frame, to 
compose motion forward in time. This approach contrasts with the ac- 
cepted editing practice of cinema (which merely splices given sums of 
frames) and it contrasts with accepted filming practice (which must 
arbitrarily film those frames). Neither practice modifies its own fixed 
“givens” which are preset and arbitrary, more or less. Neither cinema 
process can touch what should be the inner structural elementals of a 
visual art of motion. 

Nor can we touch the structural elementals of a visual art of motion 
(based upon criteria that will be defined within this book) through tech- 
niques of animation. For example, neither the hand nor the eye can 
manipulate, or simply keep count of, the hundreds upon hundreds of ele- 
ments which move in accountable order and true orbital “counterpoint” 
in my own recent films, however “cool,” “minimal” or “hard edged” 
some may wrongfully define my work. To deal with periodicity through 
digital harmonic structures, as outlined in this book, computer graphics 
are essential. 

The problems of creating new grammar where none exists remain 
comprehensive and involve mysterious aesthetic norms. Basic assump- 

34 Concept 

tions need to be revised, but few persons recognize this. When an ambi- 
tious would-be artist elects to start afresh among the fields of scientific 
technologies, he starts fresh, after his art school training. So it was with 
independent filmmakers. Paraphrasing Winston Churchill (the artist) 
once more: Never before had so many elected to fly such difficult flying 
machines with so few flying lessons. The few safe landings and the 
carnage were both predictable. 

It is not the time and this is not the place for summarizing this 
activity in the arts, especially technology’s arts, over the past twenty or 
thirty years. These matters are never summarized well and this is, least 
of all, my responsibility. The framework of my ideas has passed from 
collisions with technology and collisions with many attitudes presuming 
to deal with art and technology, to a serene perspective on both the perils 
and rewards of new instruments and instrumentalities for music and art. 

Yet my aspirations have been consistent since that shipboard tussle 
with my visionary glimpse of music in the viewfinder on the high seas 
bound for Rotterdam. Whether I have found a valid grammar rooted in 
late twentieth-century technology remains to be seen. These first chapters 
have provided background for what is to follow. I submit the remainder 
of this book for its suggestions regarding the novel idea of a new 
grammar and for an art that looks like music. This new grammar must 
speak to us as eloquently as music or fail its very reason for existence. 


Chapter IV 

The Problem: 

How Shall Motion Pattern Time? 

The Raft of the Medusa , a painting by Theodore Gericault is a tableau of 
disaster, a scene of pandemonium: under turbulent sky and a thrashing 
sea, survivors struggle just to remain upon the pitching topsides of a 
gigantic raft, or to aid one another while some slip under the waves even 
as the distant rescue vessel is in sight. No spare surface within the can- 
vas is untouched by violent motion and emotion. Nevertheless, Jackson 
Pollock’s fields of abstraction are of an order that would imply still 
greater activity. His gestural act of painting produces a surface of three- 
dimensional turbulence. Where, in art, do you find more motion than 
this? And what is the nature and function of motion in all art? What are 
the relations of motion and emotion? 

A quest for answers to questions such as these led me to study the 
nature of time and motion in prior visual arts dealing with the visual 
elements that contribute to a singular design. A painting, regardless of 
implicit dynamics, still exists passively fixed in time. But a new art 
might pattern action in time with all elements in motion at all times. The 
graphic problem, then, will be how to manipulate a field of visual 
elements so that all parts will contribute purposely to some temporal 
(time-structured) design. 

In this era, preoccupations with action painting, process in art, serial- 
ization, pattern, optical phenomena, color fields and light itself, all sig- 
nificantly reflect intensified concern with problems of the dynamics of 
painting* Within the community of visual artists, few painters since Kan- 

* Popper, Kinetic Art; and Rickey, Constructivism. 


dinsky have remained indifferent to the problem of “time” and “motion” 
in their still medium. Yet most remained uninterested or innocent of the 
knowledge that technology lately could provide the possibility of 
working with real time and real motion; hence their concern with the 
dynamics of their static medium is in one sense outmoded. The distant 
rescue vessel figuratively will never arrive in Gericault’s canvas drama. 

“As a tone in itself is not yet a melody, so a chord in itself is not yet 
harmony . . . Music is motion - tonal motion as melody - chordal motion as 
harmony.”* “A note - A, B, C, D, and so on - has no meaning in itself; 
it is just a note. It is the combination of the notes which can create mu- 
sic .” 0 These are truisms about music, but for me they are more: they pos- 
sess certain fragments of insight with which to approach the problem 
of visual motion. 

An early intuition about how to control total dynamics led me to 
activate all graphic elements through a motion function that advances 
each element differentially. For example, if one element were set to 
move at a given rate, the next element might be moved two times that 
rate. Then the third would move at three times that rate and so on. Each 
element would move at a different rate and in a different direction 
within the field of action. So long as all elements obey a rule of direction 
and rate, and none drifts about aimlessly or randomly, then pattern con- 
figurations form and reform. This is harmonic resonance, and it echoes 
musical harmony, stated in explicit terms. I tried this procedure in 
several films, and was gratified by the consistency of the confirmation 
it demonstrated. 1=1 

Ironically, multiplane animation - the only other differential function 
ever applied to graphics - is a leap in reverse, because it actually serves 
to fixate an illusion of the stasis of the natural world by a trick that 
gives realistic looking differential motions to foreground, middleground 
and background. Gericault’s various paintings of violence and action 
show that motion depicted as an event upon this earth is of an order 
quite different from the conception of motion in the mind’s eye, for 
example, as implied in the turbulent abstractions of Jackson Pollock. At 

* Victor Zuckerkandl, Sound and Symbol (New York, 1956), p. 109. 
o Claude Levi-Strauss, Myth and Meaning (New York, 1979), p. 52. 
□ See the films which are illustrated in Figures (6)— (12), pp. 75-80. 

38 Problem - How Shall Motion Pattern Time? 

the same time, a look at the “real world” demonstrates the static relation- 
ship of foreground and background, and the static relation of mountain 
to sea, tree to house, regardless of the activity thereabout. 

My early intuition about the problem was correct in visualizing a 
field of action as Gestalt patterns of moving elements and not as a stage 
upon which motion events occur. Traditional pattern is constructed from 
a repertoire of elements. For example, lattices, Islamic mosaics and bor- 
ders are patterns constructed from elements - stitches, tiles, bricks, beads 
or brush strokes. The problem of motion, then, directed my attention 
from the idea of merely rendering an overall landscape as a static stage 
for motion. I thought to borrow from these traditional practices of pat- 
tern construction. I thought of the rhythm of pattern. So, as if they were 
pattern rhythms in actual motion, I conceived of ways to manipulate a 
series, family or scale of elements, each with its own action potential. 
The problem of motion is less like painting landscape and more like 
herding sheep, or hedgehogs, as in Alice’s croquet. 

Continuing to study the problem by comparing prior arts, I asked 
myself: what are the essential components of time and temporal organi- 
zation in poetry, dance and music? Metrical order is an important part 
of the structure of poetry as it is important to harmonic structure of 
music. Pitch pattern and rhythmic pattern are interrelated and interwoven 
in music just as syllabic, rhythmic pattern and meaning interweave 
in poetry. 

Twentieth-century art, poetry and music again and again have 
breached the thoroughly codified rules of meter and harmony. Still, a 
latter-day ambivalence emerges, perhaps to reign. “The king is dead. 
Long live the king!” could become a refreshing idea. A late twentieth- 
century attitude might claim that meter is dead; long live meter! Stravin- 
sky pronounced that harmony is dead; he might have added - long 
live harmony! Perhaps an end is near to the tiresome reaction against all 
nineteenth-century giants in the arts and their academies. Within the 
earliest decades of this century, Dada did a job that was needed. But 
recent reaction in art - anti-art, anti-meter, John Cage’s effort to prove 
that even a squeaking chair knows structure and is therefore “music” - 
all of this has grown ever more tedious and inappropriate. 

Nearly everyone senses the presence or absence of meter. Regarding 


meter and rhythm: “Both are always present simultaneously - the 
uniformity of the wave, the variegated pattern of durations, of long and 
short, in the actual succession of tones. Both together make up the 
rhythm of our music - not the succession of longer and shorter tones as 
such, but their succession supported, borne along by, the rise and fall of 
the continuing metric wave.’’* Reducing to these words what is instantly 
felt by the vast majority of mankind (especially the young child) hints 
at the unfathomable subtlety of the perceptual processes at work within 
the metrical patterning of time. 

Despite seconds and minutes, time is not naturally marked into units; 
and despite motion picture frames, motion is not broken into static frame 
units. “We cannot draw boundary lines on a wave; one wave passes 
into another without a break.’’ 0 My quest for understanding intensified 
my struggle with seemingly simple problems such as how the mechani- 
cal demarcations of frames can be reconciled with the variability of 
musical rhythm. 

I tried to define and manipulate arrays of graphic elements, intending 
to discover their laws of harmonic relationships. I hoped to sketch the 
outline of a foundation for metrical order. Early efforts to deal with this 
problem employed differential functions applied to the motions of 
each of the elements, as noted above; but other problems radiated in all 
directions around my primary suppositions. 

Overwhelmed by the erudition of musical textbook detail and tech- 
nique and humbled by my floundering with the staggering graphic 
problems, nevertheless, I started at last to make some progress. A bench- 
mark was reached when I began to apprehend the relationship of the 
three terms: differential, resonance and harmony. First, motion 
becomes pattern if objects move differentially. Second, a resolution to 
order in patterns of motion occurs at points of resonance. And third, this 
resolution at resonant events, especially at the whole number ratios, 
characterizes the differential resonant phenomena of visual harmony . D 

* Zuckerkandl, Sound and Symbol, p. 171. 
o Zuckerkandl, p. 170. 

□ Looking back upon my experience of this “rite of initiation," I wonder if the composer him- 
self might gain insight were he, too, able to look beyond orthodox harmony into this unconditionally 
unorthodox view of the Pythagorian "physics" which transcends particularity to define, in the broad- 
est generalized sense, the harmony, namely the resonances of differential periodicity. 

40 Problem - How Shall Motion Pattern Time? 


I had discovered the many significant meanings of the word resolve. 
Among the eighteen numbered definitions in my dictionary are, “to make 
a firm decision about,” “to find a solution to,” “to deal with conclu- 
sively,” “release,” or this sixteenth item in the dictionary: “Music, to 
progress from dissonance to a consonance.” What is more definitive than 
“release” of tension? What else than “to find a solution to?” What else 
than exactly what I found in my visual harmonic resonances? This re- 
solve at a resonant event dissipates tension. Dissonance reaches conso- 
nance at any moment of resonance. All this is exactly as visible as it is 
audible. I felt that this was to be a profound discovery. 

It followed that if moments of resonance resolve tension, certain fac- 
tors must be at work as complementary forces to build tension. Though I 
little understood the details, it seemed clear I had discovered a clue to a 
force-field of visual perception. What I knew about music confirmed 
for me that emotion derives from the force-fields of musical structuring 
in tension and motion. Structured motion begets emotion. This, now, is 
true in a visual world, as it is a truism of music. 

My search for a scale or alphabet was stimulated at this time by 
Noam Chomsky’s book, Language and Mind. There I read, almost as a 
fact incidental to the point of his writing, a quotation from the text of the 
Port Royal Grammar, a seventeenth-century view of language: “. . . [we] 
make infinite use of finite means [with our alphabet] . . . that marvelous 
invention by which we construct from twenty-five or thirty sounds an 
infinity of expressions.”* 

It was not at all clear what might constitute the computer’s graphic 
“alphabet.” Yet Chomsky’s brief history of the devious directions taken 
in a search for an understanding of the origins and the nature of language 
stimulated my endeavor, where perhaps the very scope of that search 
should have been discouraging. I felt wiser and derived confidence 
in my own quest, having learned of the succession of wrong turns and 
blind alleys that have already been taken in classic scientific studies. 
Chomsky’s description of a major turn in a wrong direction that was 
pursued for more than a century by a large faction of linguists led me to 
wonder if a considerable faction of composers in this century might have 

*Noam Chomsky. Language and Mind (New York, 1968), p. 18. 


taken a similar turn in some wrong directions. 

I sensed that Chomsky’s concept of the deep structure of language 
applied almost miraculously to music * The details did not seem impor- 
tant. I was encouraged just to know that there was speculation about 
“innate human dispositions” in regard to our speech competence. There- 
fore it appeared to me that musical dispositions must surely follow. I 
entertained the outrageous presumption of leaping beyond all constraint 
of logic to conceive a visual world of harmony to which there must be 
innate human responses, just as in the aural world of music. 

Reflecting further, I observed that language, this greatest and most 
complex intellectual achievement of collective mankind, came to us 
“naturally,” so to speak. Nobody, no committee planned a babel of 
tongues. In fact, efforts to synthesize, improve upon or even redirect the 
development of any language have always floundered. (French gram- 
marians have merely struggled against “Franglais.”) Whatever parallels 
exist between language and music are bound to include the probability 
that music, too, would defy synthesis by plan or committee - or by 
myself, of course. Such thoughts somewhat tempered my reflections on 
the very idea of innovation in art. 

Yet I began to discover the dynamics of graphic pattern arrays and 
their harmonic interrelationships. I began to detect the subtle charge and 
discharge of tension related to order/disorder dynamics in these arrays. 
The problem now seemed to define itself in such terms. I was beginning 
to conceive of the basis for a graphic “scale” evolving from harmonies, 
and I saw that here was a way beyond the monolithic emotional stasis of 
so much abstract film and video with which I was familiar. 

For years, I had detested a quality of stasis that permeated and spoiled 
a broad variety of pattern in motion compositions. Video wallpaper or 
video- Valium are two of the more popular “expletives” used frequently 
with no slight derision to express what I had observed. The emo- 
tional blandness of these films derives from a pattern of movement 
that neither gathers nor discharges tension. Many films exhibit total 
ignorance of the function of tension. Forces at work in an image moving 

*In the first three chapters of The Unanswered Question , Leonard Bernstein grasped the metaphor 
in deep-structure of linguistics vis a vis music much as I did. 

42 Problem - How Shall Motion Pattern Time? 

without purpose cancel one another. This becomes a ludicrous stand-off 
of force/counterforce, an equilibrium of pointlessness even while the 
screen may boil with activity. Now it was obvious: only structured 
motion begets emotion. 

The composer - mindlessly, intuitively or with careful deliberation 
- concatenates one element of harmonic cohesion onto another and 
another. And so he builds structures which literally lead us by the ear 
along a pathway of emotional continuity. I became acutely aware that 
these forces prevail whether classical harmony or “atonal” musical con- 
structions were involved. With insight transformed since my earliest 
filmstrip experiments, I now grasped the pervasive function of harmony: 
I could feel harmonic forces either working or failing to work in every 
graphic dynamic, whether the motion had been structured knowingly 
or not. 

Now I objected to the word “abstract” because it serves to misdirect 
emphasis onto the object that moves and so to obscure the idea of mo- 
tion as dynamic pattern. Dynamics interested me in the sense that music 
is motion, tonal motion, chordal motion. Here, abstraction is not at 
issue. Any image must be an ephemeral conveyance of patterns of mo- 
tion. Within their limits of mass and inertia, dancers also perform 
“musical” patterns of motion, and of course the human body is hardly 
an abstraction. 

My early distress with “film symphonies” came to mind. The deter- 
mination to find a more fluid vision than was possible by using a cine 
camera pointed at the world (rivets in iron plate on the high sea) con- 
tinued as the subject of much reflection. By contrast the recurring res- 
onant events with computed differential structures of elements in motion 
were producing valid, generative and fluid patterns. I was satisfied that 
here was the beginning of an architecture of motion that might be made 
to blossom the way musical architectonic pattern blossomed, in the 
Baroque era for instance. 

At the same time as I gained new control of fluid graphic harmony, 
some composers in search of new musical resources were beginning to 
compose with magnetic tape and electronic synthesizers; but their 
“new” compositions were often immobilized through loss of harmonic 
structural control. Mono-melodic, sustained tones and tiresome slow 

motions became cliches that often dominated electronic music from 
mid-twentieth century onward. 

It seemed, ironically, as if their loss was my gain. Just as my new 
way beyond stasis of the graphic field through applied harmonics came 
into view, many electronic music composers seemed to lose touch with 
harmonic fundamentals and dynamic pattern and seemed to lose dexter- 
ity of figuration. The natural fluidity of music seemed to thicken to 
molasses, in their aural electronic world. 

On the other hand, as my graphic elements progressed through one 
point of resonance or through a fraction of a harmonic cycle, motion was 
indeed patterned. When, infrequently, one of the sequences in my har- 
monic films was composed effectively, the results of these resonances or 
this cycling, were characterized by a diversity of rise and fall of tension, 
of highs and lows of tension, and a metrical rhythm and order such 
as we expect and receive everywhere within the vast diversity of pre- 
electronic music. 

Among other practical considerations these observations resulted in a 
decision. For the time being, I elected to put aside the musical problem 
as it bore upon my own long-term plans while I would concentrate upon 
new prospects for optical differential dynamics. I would settle for 
whatever music I might find for each new graphic composition since my 
optical studies were the immediate challenge. 

Clearly, the study of electronic and computer musical potentials 
would be far more generously endowed than my graphic work. At uni- 
versities and electronic music centers around the world, long established 
funding of music studies had been generous. Investment in the newest 
electronic instruments went on and on despite a new-to-obsolete life 
cycle of about three years, throughout the past thirty years. 

With a plan and a perspective upon the past and a sense of future, 
the direction of my life work was now clarified. Here is a summary of 
the problem as I found it: 

Music, as the true model of temporal structure, is most worthy of 
study among prior arts. Music is the supreme example of movement be- 
come pattern. Music is time given sublime shape. If for no other reason 
than its universality and its status in the collective mind, music invites 
imitation. A visual art should give the same superior shape to the temporal 

44 Problem - How Shall Motion Pattern Time? 

order that we expect of music. As with the twenty-six elements of the 
alphabet, music’s hierarchical pattern of tones provide the model for a 
visual art with which to “make infinite use of finite means” to construct 

The unassailable fact remains that a work whose principal dimension 
is time must faultlessly reckon with time. The only way we can deal 
with time is to construct along time’s dimension. There are ways to give 
shape to time’s rule upon human experience. This means that there are 
ways to anticipate the next moment and to gratify expectations raised by 
the moment just past; for example, in the human experience of music, 
expectations do arise moment by moment. As listeners, we are engaged 
in a musical intercourse with the composer. How we engage him, and 
are engaged in turn by the composer, marks the very life of the matter 
of music. 

The problem, then, of a visual art of motion centers on that same 
vital engagement. The dialogue between composer and whoever responds 
to his work is tied somehow to a give and take, step for step in time. 

This is what we mean by “giving shape to time.” “Music is temporal 
art in the special sense that in it, time reveals itself to experience.”* 
Otherwise time is shapeless or mechanical or lifeless, or time is fixed 
into catatonic rigidity. 

*ZuckerkandI, Sound and Symbol, p. 200. 

Chapter V 

The Instrument 

Not Pure Hypothesis - Not a Piano 

The following is a description of an instrument capable of producing 
patterns of movement of visual elements within a graphic pattern field. 
These movement structures derive from the changing harmonic relation- 
ships of elements that move within a two- or three-dimensional field. 
This instrument provides a composer with a means to compose a visual 
art of movement pattern whose primary structural dimension is time. 

A composition may be stored on film, video tape, disc or other stor- 
age means. It may be played out in real time to a laser deflector or video 
projection means for a “live” performance. Music is a logical “accom- 
paniment” and color is an important parameter with any of these proce- 
dures. The training and skill required of the composer may be compared 
with that of his musical counterpart. One version of the instrument 
would include a digital music composing capability in order to facilitate 
composition of aural/ visual interrelationships. 

We know the audio spectrum extends from, say, 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. 
Upon this field, numerous musical scales of all cultures are mapped in 
various steps of harmonic ratio. We can imagine a scale of steps in one 
dimension from low to high. A visual analogy of this one-dimensional 
musical spectrum might be a two-dimensional coordinate field with 
20,000 X by 20,000 Y coordinate units. 

Let us try to visualize this field. Without considering what the object 
might be, we could move “something” from the lower left to upper right 
in this two-dimensional, imaginary field, as music moves from low to 
high. Or the movement could follow the pathways of the conductor’s 
baton or hands as he directs the music. Of course, the bouncing ball 

touching each word of the song, reading left to right as the music moves 
in time, is an old sing-along game of the early movies that is suggestive 
of these motions. 

Throughout a century of color organ experiments and even more 
frequently since the invention of the oscilloscope, would-be music/ 
image innovators have attempted to invent a device with which to play 
color “musically” on this two-dimensional field. Many minds have con- 
trived to associate the rise and fall of melody with the upper and lower 
regions of this field and thereon to lay out visual “scales.”* 

As a functional playing ground for a visual analogue of the musical 
spectrum, this simplistic idea is invalid. Only vaguely do we associate 
musical scales with “up or down,” and we seldom associate tonal 
motion with action to the left or right. 

Again we may consider the conductor: There is no exact correspon- 
dence of the motions of his hands with the rise and fall of musical pitch 
even though there must be some kind of relationship between the music 
and his stressful actions; Not all that energy is an act for the benefit of 
the audience behind him. Otherwise he would communicate only tempo 
to the orchestra members by standing before them, flailing the air, as it 
seems. A further discussion of this subject occurs later. 

The instrument proposed here is based upon a different scaling prin- 
ciple which is mapped onto its own field in a manner that avoids the 
questionable up-down, or left-right analogy. The scale ascends, as do the 
musical scales, but not “up” and “down” either X or Y field coordinates. 

The scaling principle is crucial to understanding the nature of this 
instrument. Some discussion will be required to grasp the functions 
which generate graphic pattern by differential motion. This type of mo- 
tion pattern was inconceivable before the computer made possible the 
control of visual periodic pattern. Therefore a description of differential 
motion pattern will follow. The diagrams on page 50 Figure (1) are for 
this purpose. 0 

Given 60 points set in a row, as in Column A - Frame 1, move 
point #1 one step up, point #2 two steps up, point #3 three steps up, 

*See Chapter II, p. 22 (Reference to animator's attempts to “illustrate" music). 

o See Chapter XII for a detailed description of the programming needed to produce these 


48 The Instrument - Not Pure Hypothesis - Not a Piano 

and so on to point #60 which is moved sixty steps upward. Frame 2 
shows these moves. Frame 3 shows point #1 moved two steps, #2 four 
steps, #3 six steps, etc. Frames 4 through 9 continue this simple prog- 
ress. At Frame 9, point #1 has moved eight steps upward while point 
#60 has moved 480 steps (8x60). 

This action sequence is the simplest example of a differential motion 
pattern. I stress motion pattern because the motion itself is patterned 
significantly. Although the static image on the page is pattern too, it is 
the pattern of movement exclusively that matters. As the following 
columns hint, the potential for pattern by differential motion is widely 

Column B is an application of differential motion to a line of points 
at various radii of a polar coordinate layout. Point #1 is at the mean 
radius. Point #60 is at the extreme radius of a circular polar coordinate 
field. Again, as in the first example, the horizontal line of points are 
moved in incremental steps derived from their number, 1 through 60. 

In this column, progress of the movement is merely clockwise around 
the circular field, starting at three o’clock instead of upward as in 
Column A. Column B, Frames 2 through 9, show how the identical rule 
of Column A produces a different pattern. 

Column D is an application of this differential motion to an array of 
triangles which demonstrates that the principle applies to any set of ele- 
ments, not just points. The triangles are graduated in size and located 
in superimposed position initially. Otherwise the differential rule of 
movement according to each one’s number is the same as in columns A 
and B. In this instance 24 triangles are moved differentially around a 
common circle, with clockwise motion from twelve o’clock. 

This is the differential principle which is applied in various ways to 
all motion of typical scales of an hypothetical instrument. Any scale 
ascends a ladder of tensional structure in the time dimension. The pro- 
gressive rise and fall of tension, which I might call the force-field pattern 
of a structure, is characterized by recurrent nodes, where tension is 
resolved to equilibrium (resonance). This attribute of tension, within any 
differentially dynamic structure, will be described at length later and 
with more illustrations. 

For now, one further detail to consider: were Column B continued for 

A B C D E 

50 The Instrument - Not Pure Hypothesis - Not a Piano 


the proper number of steps, all 60 points would return to an exact repeat 
of their initial starting position. When point #1 has completed one cycle 
around the circle of its radius, point #2 will have completed two, #3 
will have completed three, and #60 will have completed its sixty cycles. 
A selection of a few of the simple fractional steps, the low order frac- 
tions of the entire cycle, are shown in Column C. In like manner, the 
same fractions of the triangles of Column D are extended throughout 
one cycle in Column E. The fractions shown are the eighth, quarter, 
three-eighths, half, five-eighths, three-quarters, seven-eighths and the 
return repeat to zero. 

I conclude this preliminary description of differential motion with 
a look at another cyclical pattern of movement. Figure (2) p. 52 is a line 
plot schematization of this fundamental principle of digital harmony. 

It represents a graph of the pathways of twelve points that move through 
sine function curves. Again, as with the differential motions of the 
Figure (1) examples, point #1 moves one cycle, point #2 moves two 
cycles, point #3 three cycles and so on to point #12 which has moved 
twelve cycles. The cycles begin and conclude with all twelve points 
superimposed. In other words, each sine plot, one to twelve, fits within 
the same overall span, while the amplitude of each is diminished pro- 
portionally to its number* 

All scales ascend a differential progression of resonant nodes. These 
nodes are also called beats or harmonics or beat frequency nodes, which 
occur at various fractional intervals along any ascending progression of 
periodic phenomena. They are events, in time, of resonant pattern that 
take form by virtue of the hierarchy of elements which are mapped onto 
a polar or Cartesian coordinate system. From another point of view, 
differential dynamics presents a new action specific of all the common- 
place phenomenon that is best known as moire interference pattern. Inter- 
ference, or moire, are simply other terms for visual periodic resonance. 

Figure (2) the line plot, shows its harmonic nodes clearly at each 
fraction. Column E of Figure (1) (the continuation of Column D) and 
Column C (which continues B) display their event patterns of harmonic 

*The placement of do, re, mi etc. of the solmization notation will be explained on page 69 in 
Chapter VI. 










Figure ; 

resonance, or beats all generated by the progress of differential dynamics. 

Figures (1) and (2) have served to illustrate some elementary ideas 
concerning differential dynamics. The paragraphs to follow will outline 
the basics of the prototype graphic instrument. This prototype is assumed 
to represent only one of a class of instrumentalities for differentially 
dynamic pattern. The few illustrations of this entire book provide merely 
a hint of the diversity of pattern which can be envisioned. The scope of 
this variability should be likened to the diversity of the world’s music 
which is derived entirely from a few simple intervals of audio harmonic 
relationships as they constitute the tunings of the vast numbers and 
classes of musical instruments around the world. 

Two major differential parameters that determine event patterns are 
employed in our instrument. These parameters are identified as “RD,” a 
radius differential factor, and “TD” (theta), an angular differential factor, 
to be described later. Both parameters distribute or map the various 
elements by controlling their relative spacing with differential motion. 
Stretching the spacing of elements by the progress of differential motion 
affects overall harmonic relationships which produce the resonant 
patterns of the elements. The elements may consist of points or lines, or 
constructs which may be made out of points or lines, as for example the 
triangles above (at Figure 1, column D) or any pixel (picture element) 

Stretching the spacing of elements may be illustrated by imagining a 
ribbon of rubber upon which a series of marks are layed out at equal 
distances. As the ribbon is stretched by pulling from the ends, the spac- 
ing between each mark (element) is extended equally. Whatever way this 
ribbon is wrapped or spiralled or otherwise distributed within a field, 
back and forth, around or meander, we can imagine this progressive 
stretching to affect all the spacing of the elements equally. Also, we can 
imagine that the change in spacing produces changing patterns of dis- 
tribution over all the field. 

From the beginnings of music in prehistory, we have experienced 
pattern which the ear perceives as the harmony (linear and simultaneous) 
of music. In that same way, these graphic motion harmonics are per- 

See also Figure (12), p. 80. 

ceived visually. Harmonic considerations dominate the composer’s 
choice of notes that sound at any exact time. While a melody consists of 
a sequence of notes, the effect is a pattern of movement that is more or 
less continuous regardless of the rapidity or slowness of the sequence, or 
the length or shortness of the successive intervals. 

A melody is an entity vastly greater than the sum of its notes. An 
objective of melodic design is a structural totality whose progress from 
beginning to end is one indivisible continuity. A simile for this is the 
word which composers of the European romantic periods have used 
often and appropriately - miracle. 

This miraculous entity is often a tonal pattern which departs from a 
point of tonal stability, and however it negotiates the push and pull of 
forces of harmonic energies, in a kind of game, it will most likely end 
with a return to some form of original consonance or to the tonic. 

Harmony, consonance-dissonance, order-disorder, tension-resolution 
are interrelated terms in the lexicon of music. They are relevant in this 
field. For the game is the same, namely to design visual pattern con- 
structs as a dynamic interplay of force augmenting force, ultimately em- 
bodying the singular attributes of melody, continuity and integrity. All 
this, when it happens, as it does with some great music, is justifiably, if 
only poetically, termed a “miracle.” 

The instrumental concept being described here allows that dynamic 
interplay of visual pattern. The composer may select from a branching 
tree of pattern-choice at any metric or harmonic juncture of a composi- 
tion. Thus, he may choose to construct from infinite options the pattern 
of tensional ebb and flow to suit his conceptions and his meaning and 
purpose. The least unit of time accessible to the composer in this visual 
domain is much the same as in music. Yet, as a comparison, the struc- 
tural units are longer than the unit we call a note of music. They are like 
subsets of melody, comparable with musical motifs or phrases. 

“A note. . . has no meaning in itself.”* It is the combination of notes 
that make music. Likewise, one frame of these patterns has no meaning. 
This idea is more difficult to accept; we are mislead by the movies. A 
still from a movie may show Douglas Fairbanks at mid-thrust in a duel 

*Levi-Strauss, Myth and Meaning, p. 52. 

54 The Instrument - Not Pure Hypothesis - Not a Piano 

with death itself. That “frame” is a picture worth its thousand words. A 
frame of these patterns speaks too few of the thousand words. Sounding 
an A minor chord or striking A above Middle C “has no meaning in 
itself” and tells us too little, say, about a sonata by Mozart. Just so, a 
frame of one of these patterns “has no meaning in itself” and tells us too 
little about the action. 

The “RD” and “TD” parameters of a prototype instrument delineate 
the two-dimensional force-field upon which a “scale” is drawn. We ob- 
served that musical scales are distributed upon the spectrum of the aural 
field which ranges linearly within limits of hearing. As that single 
dimension of pitch frequency is a linear continuum, so by contrast our 
visual field provides the idea of a two-dimensional, planar continuum, a 
planar field whose coordinates are, in this instance, “RD” and “TD.” 

On the musical-linear continuum, notes of a scale are mapped, each 
at its own pitch, as determined by harmonic ratio rules of succession. 
With our visual-planar continuum, certain conjuncts of the “RD” and 
“TD” parameters can be mapped. These form a graphic “scale,” deter- 
mined by harmonic rules, or determinants, which are valid in the sense 
that notes of music are valid. However the horizontal (time) i\s. vertical 
(chordal) distinctions, which are common to music, are interwoven in 
this graphic domain. 

The planar field must not be mistaken for an actual field. This visual 
display is rhetorical - the theory, as distinguished from the practice. It 
is a mathematical conception which, in turn, can be mapped onto any 
visual field, including any three-dimensional space, by employment of a 
large variety of different projections and transformations. There can be 
diverse projections such as the polar or Cartesian coordinates or topolog- 
ical surface projections, or spatial projections such as illustrated in Fig- 
ure (12),* each of which would produce a different pattern, and different 
patterns of force. Likewise, the notes of the musical scale are merely 
rhetorical until they are “mapped” onto any of the diverse instruments 
of the world, by merely tuning that instrument to some conventional 
scale or to its own unique scale. 

The illustration on pages 56-57, Figure (3) is a typical mapping of 

*Scc the description of this illustration on p. 81. 

Figure 3 

RD = 1 





RD = 2 



■ M ■ 

( M. ) 

RD = 3 

C\ ,"9 


( k •*•./) 



" •* " 

RD = 4 

f\ ,0 

c ; A 3 
U \) 


■ ; ® ; • 


RD = 5 


c. \i 


6 X \l 

/""S. /• ..r‘ N 
.. ||| 

RD = 6 

u \j ’"' J 



C' j 

: X ) 

RD = 7 


: : ■••'j 


/■\ /\ 


V ) 

a. a A A 

L j 

: • ‘ - ’ . • * 



RD = 8 

r\ /I 
V } 

L-‘ '-.j 

./‘A.- A. 
' # ' 

RD = 9 





TD = 0 

TD = 1 

TD = 2 

TD = 3 

56 The Instrument - Not Pure Hypothesis - Not a Piano 

( ri?"\ ) 

; <I>! 



( ‘'..MV ] 



• - X> • • 



: • y ■" •: 

i i 

i : 

: : 



'• •* ••. 

' >*'• ' 




• • “>»/." : • 





TD = 4 

TD = 5 

TD = 6 

TD = 7 

TD = 8 


Figure 4 

RD = 1 
TD = 1 

RD = 1 
TD = 2 

RD = 1 
TD = 3 

RD = 1 
TD = 4 



( clTc ) 



f Ai 


f X ; 










r {} 4 


( A.’ } 

,.- ; X:¥iV-.y 



(~\ /T) 



r n 





f\ f) 


1/ J 


C -.. a ..-• ••.7 

L- - ' '••J 

RD = 2 
TD = 0 

RD = 3 
TD = 0 

RD = 4 
TD = 0 

RD = 5 
TD = 0 

58 The Instrument - Not Pure Hypothesis - Not a Piano 

RD = 1 

RD = 1 

RD = 1 

RD = 1 

TD = 5 

TD = 6 

TD = 7 

TD = 8 




r x 1 

: •'4,. 





/4f v A--p 



f /• f V v 1 

■ : . ■ . 





( ) 




/• X \ 

A j 


:: v\.. ..V 

y' ■ vistiy 

i # 'i 

( ;>iP 

{ / ; X *• \ i 

t" y "t 



-« ! i 





. ’• - 

r-m -1 



f\ .0 

* : ; • *x; ■ = : I* 
c...p v-..j 

\S ' -J 

L/’ \j 

k ,M,-7 

i. // 


*, A 

: 4- ’ 

•py. -.-p 

6-** • .* *. • * 0 
u g 

: : '■•j 



RD = 6 

RD = 7 

RD = 8 

RD = 9 

TD = 0 

TD = 0 

TD = 0 

TD = 0 


conjuncts of “RD” and “TD.” The horizontal coordinates consist of 
“TD” units spaced at integers, zero through eight. “RD” is mapped 
vertically at integers one through nine. The composer is free to move 
from any frame on this array to any other in as many or as few steps as 
he may choose. He may move step by step. Or the nature of the scale is 
such that he may move from here to there by continuous action. Be- 
tween one image and any other in the illustrations of Figures (3) or (4) 1, 
10, 100 or 1000 frames might be generated by the program. Continuous 
motion from frame to frame would likely be modulated by acceleration 
and deceleration at departures and arrivals. 

Figure (4) illustrates the flexibility of choice with another example. 
Columns 1 through 8 consist of the following sequence of steps: TD = 1 to 0 
x RD = 1 to 2; TD = 2 to 0 x RD = 1 to 3; TD = 3 to 0 x RD = 1 to 4; and 
so on up to, TD = 8 to 0 x RD = 1 to 9. 

More of the characteristics of this so-called scale-field are revealed 
by these two illustrations. Note that a simple circle, tangent to the center 
point of all the other patterns, recurs consistently on a diagonal across 
the array of Figure (3). Note that other repeated or echo patterns radiate 
at other angles. In Figure (4) this circle occurs each time at step five, 
because the steps here are derived from coordinate values that are lo- 
cated at steps on the diagonal of the array of Figure (3), in nine steps for 
each of the Figure (4) columns. Note, too, that all nine steps cover differ- 
ent space on the array of Figure (3). This will serve to emphasize that 
both illustrations represent arbitrary steps on a plane which is, in fact, a 
stepless continuum. 

The idea of steps in a continuum is one that needs thought and spe- 
cial attention. The continuum is stepless until the selection of a fre- 
quency value is made. Once made, a string of consequences follows 
automatically; the entire family of intervals related to the first selection 
falls into place. One can deduce from this the status before and after the 
first choice. Out of the void, so to speak, a complete tensional heirarchy 
of structural elements is given substantiality by the one singular deci- 
sion. Of course, all pattern would be totally different if another element 
instead of points were employed or if another coordinate geometry were 
devised. There is potentially great variety of pattern by each choice with 
each parameter and every geometric configuration. Obviously, the op- 

60 The Instrument - Not Pure Hypothesis - Not a Piano 

tions are infinite as they are to the composer of music. 

What is not illustrated in the figures, and cannot be illustrated except 
by the most extended stretch of imagination (action obviously cannot be 
illustrated, only “schematized”), is the hierarchy of tensional force 
distributed about a scale-field. Tension is resolved in its own way. Some- 
how tension is gained and lost in a way which, at the same time, does 
and does not comply with any exact analogue of the tonic force of 
music. For example, tension is resolved when any action arrives at that 
circle in both illustrations. This, incidentally, is an ideal correspondent 
for the function of the tonic in music. 

The “flip book” on the upper corners of the pages of this book is a 
sentimental return to an early device for the depiction of movement. 
Holding the book in one hand while flipping through as many pages as 
one can, will reveal a pattern of motion. The complete sequence which is 
repeated throughout the book is a cycle representing the motion of one 
“octave.” More on this will be found on pages 68-69. To observe the 
movement fully, one should try the flipping motions over and over in 
order to accumulate a sense of the total action, which reads forward 
or in reverse. 

At this point in the description it may be worth adding another foot- 
note regarding the very idea of freely associated words and my free use 
of words such as force, tension, tonic, tone, motion and emotion. Usage, 
however, will bear me out. We speak of bodily tone as well as musical 
tone. Obviously tone, tonic and tension have more than simply musical 
usage. Consider once more the conductor. There are, in his performance, 
physical, bodily and musical similes, all working at once. Conducting 
symphonic works demands tension, exertion, perception, musical experi- 
ence and sweat. 

The graphic “tonic” mentioned above is not an analogue to the aural 
benchmark. It would be misleading to make such a claim. It would con- 
fuse issues regarding distinctions within aural/optical relationships at a 
time when there is need for clarification and definition. There are few 
analogues of sound to image. At this time, there is only a very high 
potential of technical capability for a fruitful partnership in a world in 
which we are only beginning to find some fortuitous complementarities. 

This chapter has presented an opening set of generalized descriptions. 


I must apologize for interlacing them with reference, comparison and 
metaphor from music. Some readers may wonder if there might not l?e a 
better way to discuss a new subject without constant reference to an 
old one. I apologize. I have found no better way to discuss a totally 
new subject without comparing it to some existent subject about 
which we share common knowledge. Moreover we are viewing a body 
of graphic phenomena that is complementary to musical phenomena. 
While it was little known until recently, complementary relationships 
of music and computer graphics represent a new use for the term com- 
plementarity. In the next chapter the nature of this complementarity will 
be defined further and explored. The partnership of graphics with music 
may prove to be as interesting as the videodisc where it surely belongs. 

62 The Instrument - Not Pure Hypothesis - Not a Piano 


1 1 1 1 

Chapter VI 

The Idea of Differential Dynamics 
Pythagoras Revisited 

The differential parameters TD and RD can be explained in more detail 
as follows: given a set of elements such as many points, or a number 
of hexagons, circles or wire figure cubes, any of these will be moved 
differentially about the picture field. See Figures (3) through (12). The 
effect of differential movement of these or any other elements, as stated 
above, means that if one element moves at X-rate, #2 element moves 
at 2X-rate, #3 at 3X, #4 at 4X, and so on. 

These are the mechanics of differential dynamics. As I use the term 
harmony to denote the ratio order of both the horizontal and vertical 
structure of music, I use this term, “differential dynamics” to evoke, in 
the optical world, the nearest analogy to the term harmony. In the follow- 
ing paragraphs I will try to explain basic principles in detail and pinpoint 
the similarities to and differences from musical harmony. 

Parameters “TD” and “RD” determine differential action. “TD” 
controls motion in the theta or angular dimension of a polar coordinate 
distribution. Otherwise “TD” might affect the X-coordinate of a Carte- 
sian translation of the same coordinates. “RD” controls the radius 
of a polar array or the Y-coordinate of a Cartesian plot. Of course, there 
could be a “ZD” parameter determining a third coordinate for a volu- 
metric field, and other parameters. 

When a number of points constitute the given graphic elements 
employed on a polar coordinate layout, the combined functions of “TD” 
and “RD” in the program’s equation generate the family of patterns of 
which samples are shown in Figures (3) and (4). 

If we were to move from 0 to 1 by “TD” or “RD” (or both), this 


would produce an advance of one whole number of pattern progress. 
Such an advance produces a significant dynamic development within the 
pattern as suggested by various steps in either Figures (3) or (4). 

As remarked before, it is a subtle problem to explain the exact effect 
of these dynamics without presenting a moving sequence on film or 
video * Yet, what transpires - what is depicted here in the graphic pat- 
tern of action from one to another harmonic node - is probably the best 
possible schematic representation, or simply a kind of “diagram,” of 
its parallel in the dynamics of musical harmony 

Audio and optical scales show many similarities and obvious differ- 
ences of pattern dynamics. For example, assign a value of 1 to some 
arbitrary musical frequency, then 2 may follow, and 3 and so on. Be- 
tween 1 and 2, of course, lies an infinite number but, the interval repre- 
sented by the ratio of 1 to 2 is the primary harmonic relationship of 
music, namely the octave. Yet this fundamental interval of music pos- 
sesses a puzzling variety of qualities which are totally unparalleled by 
any aspect of graphics. 

Briefly I’ll try to contrast some particular qualities of the musical 
octave v.v. optical intervals. One need only sing a few notes here and 
there within two octaves for an experiment. 

First of all, one can’t sing an image. With the aid of a projector of 
some sort, one can state a visual action in real time, so to speak, as a 
performance comparable to singing. One may run a sequence on a 
moviola, for example. This differs from dance; it’s a matter of physics. 
The performer experiences dance as an obvious musical feeling, but the 
body is a real entity in the real world and it is subject to mass and the 
physical laws of inertial forces that hardly affect the subtle musical 
waves in air or the visual image on a CRT display. It’s as if even the 
lightest human body were forever expelled from music’s space where 
air and light are free to dance. 

Second, although there are octave repeats in the visual field, they are 
different in ways which I will attempt to demonstrate later. For the sake 
of comparison, sing do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti - then pause. One will sense 
the strong “gravitational” pull that urges the final sound of do 2 , the 

*See the “flip book” on the pages of this book. 

66 The Idea of Differential Dynamics - Pythagoras Revisited 

octave above the first. The gravitational pull of the musical octave is, at 
one and the same time, powerful and obvious. 

Third, while singing the octave higher, observe the increase in mus- 
cular tension of throat and thorax. A significant source of the built-in 
tensional hierarchy within all musical structures, this is not obvious 
with images. Of course, this muscular tension is intimately involved 
with dance. 

Finally, for a different perspective on these ideas, one may repeat 
R. B. Fuller’s question about higher or lower: Which way is up for the 
traveller in space outside the geometrical coordinates of Earth’s gravita- 
tional field?* Likewise, how do we conceive these coordinates within 
the inner ear ? Which way is the musical up if the questioner is upside 
down? So there is some confusion usually in our conception of the rise 
and fall of pitch, on the one hand, and “higher” and “lower” tension, on 
the other. 

Higher and lower, as terms in music have meanings which relate 
more to qualities of tension than direction. Departure from the tonic, 
whether up or down in pitch direction, is more often than not unequivo- 
cally upward (increasing) in tension. Tension is, by far, the more subtle 
and pervasive quality of music. A descending line of a musical figure 
often ascends tensionally before it is allowed to resolve (descend) to 
a conclusion. 

With the Tchaikovsky symphonies, for example, to plot the course 
of tension, as against pitch direction, is as simple as a, b, c. His musical 
designs often consist of progressions of rising tensions which parallel 
rising pitch; then both forces turn downhill, so to speak, to resolve. 

Richard Wagner, in the opera Tristan and Isolde , has complicated 
this pattern a hundredfold. The resolution of a statement has become act 
and scene of the drama. The circuitous resolution of a harmonic proposi- 
tion is delayed, postponed, restated with ambivalence and innuendo, then 
prolonged and extended. All the while tension - roll upon roll of waves 
of tension and emotion - subtly accumulates, being sustained and 
prolonged. All the while complexity and uncertainty rise and fall with 
the melodic line. Finally, after all this strained craving for resolution, we 

“Introduction" to Youngblood, Expanded Cinema, p. 17. 

sense merely passing incidental resolutions of the harmony, even as the 
curtain closes on the scene. 

With what is known today, graphics offer few comparisons with 
music of European civilization, even from the tenth century onward, 
especially the music of Wagner, Mahler, Debussy, or Schoenberg’s, 
Webern’s and Alban Berg’s sophisticated chromatic “atonal” innova- 
tions. Obviously our current state of knowledge of graphic harmony is 
hardly that mature. However, no criticism or offhand objections are 
adequate to discredit the many similarities between audio phenomena 
and what is known of the graphic characteristics. For there are simi- 
larities, familial in quality, that may be exactly right for the complemen- 
tarity of a partnership of image and sound. 

For further study of similarities and differences, note Figure (5) 
pp. 70-71. Perhaps these unorthodox graphic “illustrations” of music’s 
resolve to tonic are pertinent. Possibly one only needs a diagram to 
support the idea of tonic gravity; but this will need more explanation. 

The pattern of order/disorder is the singular dynamic force which 
has its effect upon both our visual and aural perceptions. Evolution to 
and from greater and lesser complexity - this is the force of harmony 
that gives shape to time. Figure (5) is a step-for-step record of that pro- 
cess expressed in simple terms of evolving (dynamic) pattern complex- 
ity. Column 7 of Figure (5) is reproduced in the flip-book. One should 
study this motion on the flipped pages thoroughly. One can observe that 
the effect is alike in either direction, just as it is with the musical scale - 
up or down. And one may observe a sense of resolve at either end. 

As schematized variously in the columns of Figure (5), or once again 
in the flip-book, the interval between whole numbers displays an ob- 
vious departure from simplicity toward pattern complexity. Midway be- 
tween one and the other, the action begins to change, to retrogress, away 
from complexity. Though not to the identical starting point, the patterns 
return to a similar quality of simplicity. In fact, simplicity is not exactly 
descriptive of these dynamics. The thrust is more toward purity and 
focus of pattern. To reiterate, the drive of the action does not reverse; 
the “feel” of the sequence is directionally forward all the way. No point 
between departure and arrival compares with the simplicity of the end 
points. This action reminds one, unequivocally, of the cyclical progress 

68 The Idea of Differential Dynamics - Pythagoras Revisited 

of: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do 2 . The flip-book is designed to illustrate this 
quality of the action. 

There is no one-to-one correspondence intended by placing the seven 
solmization syllables- “do”, “re”, “mi” etc. - at the side of the nine-frame 
illustrations of Figure (5). They provide a metaphor. One is asked merely 
to compare the similarity of the feeling of this “image scale” and a tra- 
ditional musical scale in the light of the ideas expressed on these pages. 
Likewise the solmization scale is metaphorically suggestive when laid 
alongside the sine curve pattern of Figure (2) p. 52. This sound/image 
juxtaposition is an appropriate symbol for the single hypothesis of this 
book; I have elected to create the symbol, featured on the cover, for the 
idea of aural/ visual complementarity. 

It is impossible to understand completely this aspect of the idea of 
musical experience of time. “Do-re-mi” begin a progressive sequence in 
time. “La-ti-do 2 ” end the experience by way of an approximate mirror 
image. The first and the second do possess a special and unique interre- 
lationship - the octave ratio of one-to-two pitch. This whole number 
ratio is so distinctive to ear or eye, that even neighboring pitches - even 
ti, or re - have the power to point to, or gravitate toward, their respective 
adjacent tonic if the “sense” of the tonic is well established. These 
nearby tones, and the graphic model, might suggest the idea of leading- 
tones, although in musical terminology, only ti is so-called. 

There is another point that must be stressed: all the above imperfect 
illustrations are descriptions of process in time. Sing do, re, mi, fa, sol, 

la, ti then delay do 2 too long. Of course, the gravitational pull 

will “leak away” out of the experience. Time is of the essence in all 
this. The subject here is about the nature of patterns of time in human 
perceptual experience. The illustrations, on the page, in ink, illustrate 
stasis and fail totally to show the pattern of time as experience. Hence 
the flip-book is presented to “illustrate” motion. 

That particular quality, often referred to as the drive of a piece of 
music, is almost automatically enhanced with metrical or cyclical consis- 
tency and repetition. Rock musicians know this - perhaps too well. On 
the other hand, the most difficult visual quality to compose into a com- 
position, as every abstract filmmaker may know, is the same driving 
propulsive thrust with a visually rhythmic metrical cycle. 

Figure 5 


70 The Idea of Differential Dynamics - Pythagoras Revisited 

RD = 1 
TD = 1 




H j 




Cs \J 

("8 ) 

. . A-.. . 


( 0 ) 

: ; / ■ 




( A ^ 

i I 

\ l J / 

' X ' 

/'-“■V \ 



:( / AXXA\\. ; ' : 

X... (X 



H... /...$••* V 

f / 7 P ^ NX 

i ) 



// A 

x^ ^ 



RD= 1 


, 3-1. 








The washerwoman ascending the stone steps in Ballet Mecanique is 
a film loop printed as a strip.* As she reaches the top step carrying her 
enormous laundry bundle the film loop ends, at which point it is spliced, 
so she starts the climb over again, and again, and again. Her prodigious 
“performance” is unforgettable as an example of driving visual rhythm. 
But the loop has a mechanical meter which looks as a motorboat might 
sound. No other loop in any film since has been quite that hilarious. This 
is probably because any film loop, or any computer loop, for that matter, 
is mechanically redundant, simplistic and obvious. Too often loops fail 
to generate that special quality of music which I will call its drive. 
Instead they generate tedium which is exactly the opposite of “drive.” 

It is not obvious to everyone that rhythm does not repeat like gears 
or loops, turning round and round. 0 The charm of Ballet Mecanique 
has to do with the century’s earliest delights with the newness of the 
machine in art - typewriters, airplanes, sirens and jazz. Its charm is 
hardly in the film’s innovations with rhythm. 

The abstract filmmaker should wonder why it is so difficult to pro- 
duce any kind of profound rhythmical sophistication. This century’s 
avant-garde obsessions with free verse or free rhythm (read a-rhythmic), 
and an equal distaste for metrical symmetry (though it is everywhere in 
pop music), are attitudes that dull one’s receptivity to rhythmic subtlety. 
Filmmakers in fact have never known rhythmical order as elegant as a 
simple nursery tune. Otherwise, it would be more broadly appreciated 
that rhythmic order begins with - and is generally an intricate subfunction 
of - harmonic structure. 

Consider the following regarding the way graphic harmonics may 
affect rhythmic pattern. The advance from a “TD” value of 1 to 2 as in 
Figure (3), can be followed by a jump back to 1. Were this to be repeated 
over and over, the effect would be like the charwoman on the film loop - 
mechanical. But the advance from 1 to 2 could reverse from 2 back to 1. 
Now this would look like a child’s two fingers playing C-D-C-D- 
C - D - C on the keyboard. Neither this child nor that “TD” motion 
need sound or look mechanical. Nor will either generate drive or much 

*Standish D. Lawder, The Cuhist Cinema (New York, 1975) p. 199. 

c It is significant that Terry Riley, Philip Glass and Steve Reich, whose music may seem mechan- 
ically repetitious, are not in the least misguided by easy mechanical rhythmic devices. 

72 The Idea of Differential Dynamics - Pythagoras Revisited 

excitement, for very subtle reasons which are beside the point. 

We may introduce upon this tedious motion of “TD” values from 1 to 2, 
a changing value for “RD,” say from 1 to 2 to 3 to 1. If we alternate 
“TD” between 1 and 2, and we add the three-step cycle of “RD,” the re- 
sult is a quantum leap in rhythmic novelty and subtlety. With a structure 
no more complex than this, we introduce to the visual world a kind of 
rhythmical sophistication which is taken for granted in music although it 
is unprecedented still in visual art or film. 

Other examples abound of tentative gains in understanding of optical 
meter and rhythm - and new discoveries. Melodic lines in music often are 
described in terms of drive or forward motion which at another moment 
in their development, may seem to pause temporarily, then resume 
their forward motion. The forward propulsion of a melody is related to 
tensional pull and thrust, a function of the hierarchy of harmonic relation- 
ships. An early exploratory example of this same pull and push of pause 
and forward drive is found in some sequences of the film Arabesque * 

The ear, which can discriminate subtle pitch differences, will compare 
and sense a frequency ratio of two-to-one as the most obvious and strong- 
est pattern of quantized simplicity (resonance) within any range of the 
sounding patterns of two tones. Tuning of instruments consists of listening 
for frequency interference beats, and “tuning them in.” Visually we need 
only observe the oscilloscope pattern to confirm this. Resonance is visible. 

Does this suffice in explaining a rudimentary principle of harmony, a 
subject of considerable study by physicist and composer alike? Certainly 
not, but here at least is a useful hypothetical graphic schema to apply, at 
will, to visual compositions, a principle that may encompass no more than 
order-disorder relationships. 

From intuition, and firsthand experience with my own films and my 
experiments, I am convinced that the eye and ear are about equally 
receptive to the dynamics of order/disorder phenomena. Aspects of the 
gigantic subject of harmony will be modeled and studied in the future 
as visual phenomena with the aid of harmonic functions in computer 
graphics. Particular computer graphic procedures with dynamic different- 
ial pattern will contribute techniques toward understanding related aspects 

*See analysis of Arabesque. Chapter IX, pp. 98-99. 

of perception. 

Differential control of motion, whether or not explainable by order/ 
disorder principles, does impart pattern and order. All elements of this 
visual domain gather and disperse with corresponding tensional charge 
and discharge. It is a test of the skill of a composer in this optical world 
that he search out unique ways with harmonics to give a shape to the new 
potential of pattern dynamics. So it has been for centuries with the com- 
poser of music, a part of whose genius is his agility and invention within 
the universe of harmonic pattern manipulation. 

Figures (6), through (12) suggest only a few of my earliest efforts at 
invention. Each figure is a sequence of frames which have been culled 
from much longer sequences taken from my own film studies. Each of 
these study compositions explores a simple idea. That is, each is a study 
of the results of selecting a set of parameters that will determine the 
dynamic aspects of a sequence. 

74 The Idea of Differential Dynamics - Pythagoras Revisited 

Figure (6) is an illustration of the 
results of selecting a triangle as the 
elementary unit and a circle as the 
matrix pathway while juxtaposing 
clockwise and counterclockwise 
circular action to produce sym- 
metry. The progress of the sets of 
elements along the matrix pathway 
is illustrated by selecting some of 
the harmonic nodes, or resonant 
points. ( Matrix III) 

Figure 6 


Figure (7) presents some of the 
symmetrical patterns which are the 
result of the progress of 24 squares 
around an elaborate three- 
dimensional Lissajous figure 
(invisible) which is the pathway of 
their motion. ( Matrix ) 

Figure 7 

76 The Idea of Differential Dynamics - Pythagoras Revisited 

Figure (8) is a selection of frames 
from another section of the same 
film. Twenty-four wire-figure cubes 
move around the same Lissajous 
pathway as above. ( Matrix ) 

Figure 8 


Figure (9) illustrates the result of 
selecting a hexagon set that moves 
around a horizontal “figure eight” 
matrix pathway which was de- 
termined by selecting appropriate 
values of “RD” and “TD.” The 
juxtaposition of this variety of 
hexagons of different sizes led to 
a dynamic condition of three- 
dimensional ambiguity. The hexa- 
gon group gives the illusion of 
being a group of cubes. This was 
an unpredictable consequence. It is 
typical of the fertility of pattern 
which I found in my earliest studies 
in this graphic domain. ( Matrix III ) 
Figure (10) is one set of patterns 
produced by selecting a circle as 
the basic element. Figure (11) is 
another selection of different circle 

Figure 9 

78 The Idea of Differential Dynamics - Pythagoras Revisited 

o O 0 O 0 

O o 

o 0 

0 o 

O O 

(o ) O 

o „o 

O U 0 

0 o 0 o 



° °r, 

? % 

• .W 

^^ooo 0 * 


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® 0 (Q) 

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(6) ® 

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Figure 10 Figure 11 


Figure (12)* is included to illustrate future probability. With computer 
graphic parameters set at forty times higher resolution, the quality of 
image detail is vastly enhanced. Each sphere is centered where a point of 
light might have been had we used any one of the many frame patterns of 
Figures (3) (4) or (5). Pictured in white in the lower right-hand comer is 
the original dot pattern. In the color illustration, that pattern is rotated 
about forty-five degrees in space and each of its six lobes are rotated 
on their own separate axes as if this were a ship’s propeller. Each sphere 
could require approximately a hundredfold increase in the computations 
needed to generate the original dot pattern. This will be a trivial refine- 
ment of future capability. 

Differential graphic processes can be specified within exact time 
constraints. Any real-number step or integer step of the parameters 
“RD” or “TD,” can be set exactly within any measure of time. Any 
acceleration or diminution of rates can be fitted exactly. Because time is 
a function of the 24-frame rate of film or 30-frames of video, meter and 
rhythm are set by a real-number value divided by the required number of 
integer steps (frames) of the projection media. Any motion can be set 
to synchronize with another that is set to complete its own action exactly 
within the time-span of perhaps a third action. This is a method to 
compose polyphony, the coincident play of two or more actions at the 
same time. 

In summary, we have reviewed, with examples, the functional poten- 
tial of differential dynamics in visual art. I have suggested that this clumsy 
and temporary term is analogous to the term harmony - for we are deal- 
ing with motion and its emotional or tensional dynamics within both 
areas. Difference in motion pattern is sensed in terms of ratio, and the 
simple, whole number ratios affect, most clearly, order/disorder 

Whole number ratios are recognizable to the composer by the more 
familiar terms: octave, fifth, fourth, major and minor thirds. But they 
should be, and I think they are about to be, recognized as functional facts 
of both aural and visual arts. If this is true, this chapter becomes its own 
homage to Pythagoras. 

*See the reference to this in Chapter XI, p. 126. 
Figure 12 

Digital Scene Simulation by 
Information International, Inc. 

© Copyright 1980. All rights reserved. 


Chapter VII 

The Idea of a Scale in Music 
and in Visual Art 

The ear responds to sound frequencies from roughly twenty cycles to 
twenty thousand cycles. This continuous spectrum in nature favors no 
one pitch over another and most sounds on earth are disorderly mixtures 
of many many pitches sounding at once. The single frequency sine tone 
is an anomaly. Even the numerous musical instruments that have orna- 
mented most cultures throughout history are not capable of sounding a 
single pitch. They normally sound various combinations and intensities 
of the natural overtones associated with each instruments’s tonal propa- 
gation method. Even so, musical scales around the world consist of 
precise sets of tones which signify discrete pitch values. 

Moreover, the pitch groups of these scales are characterized by their 
interrelationships. Of course, a scale is a scale only by virtue of these 
relations. The relations are in fact ratios which transform the aural con- 
tinuum into something else - a family of ratios (octave, fifth, fourth etc.). 

From the primordial continuum, then, music is born by fixing steps 
of exact pitch values (a sure sign of human intervention upon the natural 
world). Various steps will do, it would seem. We may assume that the 
music preceded the codification of the scale. Yet many scales have been 
cherished by a succession of generations, and orderly cultures reflect the 
great value of this continuity. 

Fixing upon some sort of scale happens consistently when making 
music. Why? For one thing, observe the motion implied within musical 
terminology. “Continuum” reflects the idea of “continuing,” “uninter- 
rupted” in some dimension. We “fix” in order to stop the drift of a set 
of “steps” that define a scale. There are numerous other examples. 


More to the point, as seen in previous chapters, the intervalic rela- 
tionships fixed by scales are the dynamic structure of musical composi- 
tion. “Music is motion. . .tonal motion. . .chordal motion.”* Fixing a 
scale, then, suggests fixating, in an otherwise too fluid medium, a kind of 
stepping-stone pathway of exact ratios upon the void, a pattern of or- 
derly steps. The ratios themselves constitute an all important instrument 
for order. This order may be extremely elaborate in function, involving 
cross-referent interlocking relationships that rival Chinese puzzles or the 
subtle world of mathematics. For example, the interval of the fifth forms 
a fourth interval with the octave above and, with cross-reflectant sym- 
metry, the lower fourth forms an upper fifth in the same octave. 

Scale is the ideal instrumentality to cope with the problems of a 
medium which otherwise would be too fluid. A scale with its surround- 
ing rules of usage, may allow for many deviations from its own 
specificity, and many do. Indeed, many traditions have “wild card” ex- 
ceptions to the rules which simultaneously promote order and variety by 
the simple idea of a rule for liberalizing or “bending” the other rules. 

Everyone enjoys the lively motion of music; in the final analysis, 
that is all there is to music. But, for the composer, that multi-voiced 
fluidity presents an inexhaustible and confounding range of choice. So 
the musical scale of intervalic ratio is the oldest way to weave a web of 
voices into “harmony.” Music is probably the most liquid art and the 
oldest. A cave painter may have marked the stones at Lascaux while he 
sang to himself a very old song his mother taught him. The song is lost 
but the painting is still visible on the cave’s stone walls, suggesting that 
art, if not as old as music, is more durable. 

Painting with cathode beams is not that durable. Color phosphors are 
more fluid and more ephemeral than a song. Often, on a color video 
display, they are liquid as fire and as uncontrolled. How does one cope 
with these fiery color phosphors that rage magnificently from any mis- 
tuned TV? At present, they are subdued into pastel stupor, as with most 
video art, or otherwise the phosphors churn on as a kind of aleatory art 
of quixotic mistunement. 

That the phosphors either rage or quash into bland pastel stupor 

*Zuckerkandl, Sound and Symbol, p. 109. 

84 The Idea of a Scale in Music and in Visual Art 

signifies something about a medium that is uncontrolled, out of hand. 
Often this sumptuous color and activity adds up to a mere manic upper 
or downer. Little wonder the color video tube was an early item of the 
drug faddist’s paraphernalia. The tube is just too fluid to control with less 
than a strong mechanism of order. Indeed this video reminds one of 
the primordial oneness, out of which the musical scales were formed 
- the fiery primal energy at the birth of form. Even its formlessness is 

Music making is an act of high precision and accuracy. Tuning 
strings or piano or timpani calls for adjustments of barely measurable 
micro tensions. The resultant complex of polyphonic patterns produced 
by a large orchestra dramatize such preciseness, being a web of many 
musical configurations playing at once in exact interrelationship. “Video 
music” fails to match that drama, because most video pattern today con- 
tains within its phosphor field obvious gratuitous relations that are im- 
precise, uncontrolled and accidental. Despite many elements moving at 
once in various directions upon the video screen, the pattern is not what 
it may presume to be. Video’s inexact “impressionism” is not an equiva- 
lent to musical counterpoint by any stretch of imagination. 

Yet certain overplayed selections from the compositions of Claude 
Debussy have been used to accompany examples of this subdued or 
confused video art. Music adds style, credibility and respectability to 
that image so that it can be used on public broadcast stations to fill time. 

What a blunder - this effort to combine sentiments of the “hearth 
fire” with music. Concomitant emotions of tension reflect the genius of 
Debussy’s music. Any doubt about this would be dispelled by merely 
watching the care and attention that is required of an orchestra of profes- 
sional craftsmen in the performance of Debussy’s poems. Why display 
limp visuals, however “colorful,” alongside Debussy? Certainly not to 
fill time. 

TV time may pass, but these bland video actions do not shape time. 
Yet imparting lucid shape to time is characteristic of music. Using the 
chromatic scale to concatenate tonal reflections upon tonal statement - at 
the exact, right time - that is how Debussy, like so many other compos- 
ers, gave elegance to the shape of time. Debussy’s epitomic good taste, 
set against visuals that are both pretense and ostentation, generate a 


painful mix of irreconcilables. Video shapelessness will not mix with 
Debussy’s fluorescence if only because of the disparity in degree of con- 
trol of the two media. More than that, there is a clash of quality and 
attitude. Debussy resides at the pinnacle of a grand epoch. The “art” of 
video color phosphors really has yet to begin. 

That beginning begins with setting a scale to the multidimensional 
color field of video’s charged phosphors. I would hope that Chapters V 
and VI have provided a hint that a scale can be laid out upon this rich 
continuum which holds the very highest potential for design. The history 
of the plurality of musical scales as sketched above should serve to 
remind one of the redundancies of culture. There likely will be many 
beginnings until this art of video becomes the mature co-equal of music, 
equal to Debussy’s style and invention, or the music of earlier centuries. 

86 The Idea of a Scale in Music and in Visual Art 


Chapter VIII 

The Role of Color 
and The Role of Music 

In his book, Interaction of Color, Josef Albers asks us to compare, as an 
example, the four notes of the “Good Morning To You” Kinder song, to 
four related color intervals.* Whether sung by child or adult, whistled or 
played on an instrument, a melody retains its own character. Yet the 
intervals of color relationships are difficult to retain even transposed a 
mere shade higher or lower in key. Albers acknowledges how 
comparisons of this sort can be informative, but just as often, they are 

“Tones appear placed and directed predominantly in time from 
before to now to later, (my emphasis). . . Colors appear connected pre- 
dominantly in space. Therefore, as constellations they can be seen in any 
direction and at any speed. And as they remain, we can return to them 
repeatedly and in many ways .” 0 

Other writers reflect upon the similarities as well as the differences 
between musical and color triads, noting the separate ways in which 
tones and colors mix. While sounds seem to retain independent identity, 
colors do not. Paul Klee and many others gave particular attention to the 
implied dynamics of colors. All agree that most color relationships pre- 
sent a dynamic thrust toward or away from one color to another. 

What if we cease all these considerations of color as pigment and put 
aside Albers’s New England fall colors? If instead we turn to observe the 
transient color phosphors of the video picture tube, many of the contrast- 

*(New Haven, 1971), p. 34. 
o Interaction, p. 39. 


ing characteristics of those examples of tone and color will no longer 
hold true. The video phosphors can be as ephemeral and transient as 
tones. Yet most studied and recorded differences between color and tone 
are related to the perception of static color versus the transient nature of 
tone. What happens when these differences no longer prevail? 

Upon a second look at video phosphors we seem to have landed 
upon a new continent of exotic perceptions. There is no hint how these 
colors will be perceived. There might be a way to liken dynamic color to 
music, but no one knows about that even though tones and colors have 
undergone separate and joint perceptual scrutiny for a century or more. 

Even so, like any new world, this region of color experience in tem- 
poral flux has been an object of the imagination and even a few prelimi- 
nary explorations. No need to recall a painful history to sense the irony 
that after centuries of failed color organ inventions, at last a workable 
color organ resides in every home with a color TV. It only awaits its 
own software; the hardware has arrived. 

On a continent where color presents itself as “from before to now to 
later,” the transiency of color lies open to exploration. I confess my own 
puzzlement despite nearly forty years of color filmmaking. During all 
those years it seemed that the methods used to produce transient color 
were the least under control and least understood. In spite of sophisti- 
cated color film technology, which underwent a revolution itself in that 
time span, I wondered if color control would not change again radically 
with the introduction of dynamic video color. Now I know for certain 
that it has changed, although phosphor video color dynamics is not yet 
fully consolidated under technical or aesthetic control. 

One propounds theories for the use and effect of color; I made a new 
plan with each film. Rarely have the best ideas lived up to expectations. 
Color for the painter is normally an intuitive experience of direct one- 
to-one interaction between three components - pigment, hand and eye. 
These intimate hands-on interactions call upon a part of the creative 
mind other than the reasoning channels needed to work creatively with 
color film. My effort to achieve painterly control of color film processes 
were too often frustrated. Lab and printing stages interpose processing 
time as a kind of insulation between the intuition of the moment and the 
actual color effect. 

90 The Role of Color and The Role of Music 

Video color surely will allow an intimate one-to-one control of 
color change. Soon, full control of the profound experience of color in 
dynamic transformations will become a visual tensional force and an 
instrumentality of art. 

A time will come when color, less a subject of static contemplation 
as in painting today, will be more a force of dynamic expressive power. 
At that time, color’s active association with music is bound to become a 
lively issue. Just as the composer calls upon the full repertoire of musi- 
cal instruments employing each one, or each combination, for its timbre, 
its “coloration,” so he will select from the repertoire of phosphor colors 
for similar dynamics. 

Over many generations, the idea of this visual dynamism has dwelt 
in so many minds that I wonder if it does not rival the dream of man’s 
aspiration to flight. That dream was to fly above the earth, departing 
from stasis and weight. The dream of visual dynamism is the same: to 
leave behind earthbound stasis and, in the mind’s eye, personally or 
vicariously, to “fly” in that liquid space of musical architecture without 
inertia or gravity - but with that elusive “musical” attribute of color. 

Bound for Rotterdam, I tried to film that liquid vision on shipboard. 
Dream, myth or youthful fantasy aside, color and tone have an assured 
future together in that very space. 

After these millennia, music may be too well explored, with its 
grand excursions in that domain of fluid architectonic fantasy. I con- 
templated with misgivings the discrepancy between the very old - music 
- and the very new - electro-optics. Wondering how such disparate cou- 
pling could ever be reconciled, I speculated upon the idea of starting 
afresh within my vision of optical/aural complementarity. 

This reflection may make sense: if, as noted in the foreword of this 
book, twentieth-century music is in crisis, here is a way (if a somewhat 
chastened way) beyond the so-called creative exhaustion of classical 
meter and harmony. One can foresee a fresh start for music with a fresh 
graphic partner as one-to-one architectonic co-equals in this newly dis- 
covered wonderland of digital harmonies. 

I was never fully content with the relations of my own films and 
their sound. I saw in every sound track a form of compromise and each 
presented a dilemma. Many viewers sense an incompatibility here and 


argue for no sound at all. Yet another argument is noteworthy. The eye, 
as a witness to events in nature, expects a matching sound with each 
event. Why should a visual experience, so close to music as these films, 
happen in silence? We think of dance or opera as a matter of course. 

On the other hand, apart from the obvious traditions that music and 
painting are both wholly self-sufficient, why not a musical experience to 
be shared with, and equally involving, the eye? Why not visual color 
patterns which are so constructed as to weave with aural patterns in a 
fruitful complementarity of architecture? The interrelationship might be 
as elaborate and the consort as true as violin and piano which discourse 
in the typical partnerships of all duo or multi-voiced compositions. This 
would be a partnership that is valid only if the combinations produce 
interest greater than the separate contribution of either the aural or the 
visual member. 

Here, many will argue that this is exactly the objective, often 
achieved, in the relationship of music with dance. Yet the complemen- 
tarity in my vision would begin at the very limits of the ideal of dance 
joined with music and proceed from there. For that ideal is instantly 
exceeded, simply because of inertia and gravity. The body has more - 
and the cathode beam has less - size and mass than the sound of a flute. 

With real enjoyment, I recall working with my brother on a few of 
our earliest films* These presented a one-time exception, within my 
experience, to the dilemma of matching appropriate action with music. 
That exception, directly due to our music-making instrument, provided 
an unequalled opportunity to integrate image and sound. First of all, the 
musical instrument was as primitive as our animation procedures. Sec- 
ond, and most important, the procedures of frame by frame production 
were alike for both sound and image. Despite many difficulties, design 
ideas for image somehow stimulated counterpart sound ideas, and in turn 
sound pattern was literally mirrored, figure for figure, in an image/ sound 

It will be useful to look at details of these early experimental film 
making processes . 0 Our homemade sound track device consisted of an 

*See James and John Whitney's films Five Abstract Film Exercises (1941-4). 
o See Appendix, p. 151. Films produced with this equipment won First Prize at the First Interna- 
tional Experimental Film Competition, Belgium, 1949. 

92 The Role of Color and The Role of Music 

array of pendulums which were tunable by adjusting weights, as are 
clock pendulums. The quality of sound produced by this primitive in- 
strument, which makes no sound of itself (its frequencies are sub-sonic), 
compares with the early electronic music produced after the introduction 
of general music synthesis a few years later. 

The pendulum device produced, silently and ever so slowly, a con- 
ventional optical sound pattern on the motion picture film by virtue of 
the mechanical action of swinging pendulums. In other words, the 
waveform patterns of musical events are drawn out in time by a factor 
of a hundredfold magnification. Playing a musical “motif” is done by 
starting and stopping each pendulum at its right moment as marked on 
the score. It could take more than sixteen minutes to record ten seconds 
of sound track. Then, these sound patterns on the film must be de- 
veloped and played on a conventional sound projector to hear, for the 
first time, the motif. 

Ever so slowly, music is made, wave for wave, by the swing of a full 
scale of pendulums. So slowly, in fact, that each minute interval of time, 
never before accessible to composer or musician, can be composed and 
structured. Exceedingly brief clusters of tones simply can be played out 
by starting and stopping the pendulums, sixty or eighty or more succes- 
sive pendulums sounding within the hundred seconds it takes to record 
one second of a composition. Of necessity, we differentiate between 
rhythm and timbre for obvious reasons, but both are the same if time is 
viewed at these hundredfold expansions. 

More to the point of this digression, the instrument served as a 
model for conceptualization. As with my experience with counting gear 
teeth as a model of geometry by means of my mechanical analog precur- 
sors of today’s computer, so this mechanical music machine drew my 
mind into speculation upon digital music instruments. In my opinion, our 
pendulums in the early 1940s and the music we composed presented 
more that was relevant to the musical issues of our time than the tape 
splicing technology of the electronic music of the 1950s. 

Intuition informed me that the very mechanical (homemade) sloppi- 
ness of pendulum linkage to light-valve in our sound recorder (in itself a 
novel transient waveform generator) was a significant factor in tonal 
quality. It suggested that the source of the timbre (sound quality) and the 


appeal of the traditional, still unsurpassed, handmade musical instru- 
ments results from inharmonic, transient waveforms, which are exceed- 
ingly varied and brief. We produced similar inharmonic transients by 
starting one pendulum and allowing it to swing perhaps only four cycles, 
then starting another as the first was stopped, then starting a third, say, 
after the second’s twelfth cycle. Thus, patterns of microclusters were 
composed in the domain of rhythm. Yet in their transience their net 
(playback) effect produced timbres in the composition being performed. 
We were more than pleased with these sound qualities; we were amazed. 

In general terms, the lessons from these experiences suggest to me 
that there are benefits to composing pattern from the smallest element 
outward, from the center and not from the fringe, both for optical and 
aural composition. Nowadays, opposing points of view of synthesis v.v. 
analysis are associated with opposing attitudes on the creation of both 
electronic image and music. The television camera (and the movie cam- 
era before it) records a given gestalt, so to speak. Editing - choosing 
subject, “camera angle’’ and sequence of scene to scene - is a process of 
analysis. Improvisation - the improvised performance in real time with 
any musical instrument, video or audio synthesizer (both confusingly 
misnamed) - is a process of analysis. 

On the other hand, creating graphic action or the music out of the 
blank nothingness, as in my computer-generated procedures, would seem 
to represent the synthesis process. By the same consideration, writing 
music note for note at the manuscript is also a process of synthesis. I 
favor the synthesis approach to composition, more or less, over trends of 
experimentation around the world. My position is one that may run con- 
trary to the many individuals and institutions oriented to real time per- 
formance upon audio and video “synthesis’’ machines through im- 

Our films of the early forties, composed on a pair of handmade 
machines, one for picture and one for sound, are “homespun” at best. 

But it is doubtful if, to this day, many other films possess a similar 
tightly drawn structural interrelatedness of their sound and image parts. 
Those films are one example, albeit ever so primitive, of exact com- 
plementarity between the architecture of the sound and the picture. 

This earliest practical experience with complementarity, however 

94 The Role of Color and The Role of Music 

primitive, still lives clearly in my memory, and because of it I believe 
fully in the prospect - near at hand - that sound and image composed on 
the same digital instrument will have totally revolutionary consequences. 
In a technological aural/ visual universe, music must become bisensory. 
Of course I do not mean music must always be bisensory 

I have not composed much digitally integrated sound with image. 

Nor have many others. My computer facility for digital music is still 
evolving and at this time, no instrumentation permits full dynamic 
manipulation of color. As to both prospects, it is clear that in the future 
there will be practical instrumentation for both digital music composition 
and controlled color image. Indeed this is the wave of the future which 
is due in this decade. 

The following chapter will offer a description of the film, Arabesque. 
Composers may wish to compare how close, or distant, graphic problems 
of composition approach their own. The film is perhaps a meditation 
upon the concept of aural/ visual complementarity. It is also an example 
of synthesis - a work from “the center not from the fringe.”* Still, 
Arabesque is a compromise. Its digitally composed image is not matched 
with digitally composed music. Its sound, however appropriate, is as 
severe a compromise as any others I accepted reluctantly upon this long 
road toward the goal of free composition with instrumentation allowing 
perfected digital access to image and sound through digital harmony. 

*Alan Watts, in his “Introduction” to A1 Huang, Embrace Tiger Return to Mountain (Moab, Utah, 
1973 ). 

• • 

• • 


Chapter IX 

Arabesque - An Analysis 

Opening Section: 

The generative design for the entire structure of Arabesque is an array of 
360 points distributed around a circle. These points are numbered 1 to 
360 and they move according to the differential rule of number value 
that moves all 360 points in one direction, horizontally to the right, each 
point at its own differential rate in value steps from 1 to 360. Point #1 is 
located at the bottom of the circle. It is the first point on the right of the 
vertical diametric axis of the circle. The point numbers increase 1, 2, 3, 
to 360, counterclockwise around the circle. Point #360 lies next to #1, 
on the left of the vertical axis, at the bottom. 

The illustration, p. 98, Figure (13) presents a selection of frames of 
the basic action from which the entire film was made* This action is 
complicated because of the modulo rule change at the frame edge. As 
any point reaches the right-hand edge of the field, its X coordinate value 
automatically drops to 0 by a modulo function of the computer program. 
This causes that point to jump to the left field edge where it continues to 
progress to the right as before. The seventh, eighth and ninth frames of 
Figure (13) show steps in the progress of the modulo jump to the left. 

The selected frames in Figure (14) present more detail of the overall 
design of the film. Because this represents the generative fountainhead 
of the entire film, it will be informative to describe all of these frames 
in detail. 

Differential rightward motion rules all of the 360 points throughout 

*See Chapter X 1 1, for listing and description of Pascal program. 

the entire film. A complete cycle of differential ac- 
tion can be calculated to be 360 cycles of the fastest 
point. This is required to complete 1 cycle of the 
slowest point. The first 360th of one whole cycle is 
completed in the steps shown in Figure (13). Point 
#360 has moved one full cycle when it meets point 
#1 at bottom, center in the ninth frame. That first 
complete cycle of the fastest point has been com- 
pleted at the second frame of the illustration, Figure 
(14). The second cycle is shown in the third frame 
and the third cycle, or the third 360th fraction, is 
shown in the fourth frame. The fifth, sixth, seventh 
cycles follow. The last frame of this illustration is 
not the eighth but the 90th cycle, or the simple 
whole number fraction, the first quarter or one fourth 
of the whole cycle. 

Arabesque begins with the circle of 360 points 
arrayed as noted. The action moves rightward to the 
first 360th cycle step. At this point, cyclical action 
ceases and another action begins - a polarity switch, 
an inversion or reversal. One well-known coordinate 
feature of computer graphic displays allows the 
image to be mirrored or inverted by a simple switch 
of the polarity of either the X or Y coordinate val- 
ues. This is also expressed as an inversion of coor- 
dinate values. After the opening action advances its 
one cycle step, the action now changes smoothly to 
a reversing action of the horizontal polarity values. 
At the completion of one full polarity switch, the 
forward action smoothly resumes to make one more 
cyclical advance. Then, at the end of the second 
360th cycle step, once again polarity values are 
switched. This time it is the Y coordinate value that 
will be changed progressively to negative. See 
Figure (15). 

These alternating cyclical motions, interrupted 

Figure 13 

98 Arabesque 

for polarity switches, create an interesting and hesi- 
tating pattern of motion which resembles somewhat 
a very slow and stately dance. Composers are famil- 
iar with musical structures that alternately advance, 
then seem to dwell a beat or two, and then continue. 
In the film, this quality of action is an alternation 
between forward motion and symmetrical motion. 
The cyclical advance moves consistently to the 
right. This forward movement changes to the sym- 
metrical motion, the axis of which is alternately 
horizontal or vertical. Then a resumption of the 
forward, rightward motion follows. 

In the film’s opening sequence, at the middle of 
the second symmetrical action, the curved triangular 
image has been squeezed down to no more than a 
horizontal line located at mid-frame. This reduction 
to a line occurs at the point when the Y coordinate 
reaches zero between Y+ and Y— . At this point of 
the action a substituion is made for another copy of 
this same action which is enlarged about 20%. This 
new sequence is combined with itself. The super- 
imposure is also enlarged to the same size as its 
partner and it is inverted. 

Now both of these new sequences move in 
reverse. Since the moment of that substitution coin- 
cides, all three - the one dropping out and the two 
that commence here - effect a kind of magical event. 
I call it magic because this act of substitution is 
smooth and practically invisible (all three elements mo- 
mentarily appear to be merely one horizontal line). It 
is all the more magical because it is not noticeable 
that the actions of both have begun a retrogression 
which takes them back to the circle from which 
they began. This concludes the opening section 
of the film. See the color strips, Figure (15). 

Figure 14 



Figure 15 

100 Arabesque 

Section Two: 

The second section opens with a fade-in of a circle similar to the first 
section but half the size of the first. Furthermore this circle’s #1 point is 
at the top of the left of its vertical axis. Thus, progress to the right with 
the rightward moving points, produces a different pattern of circle 
unfoldment. The motion is faster than before and the action appears to 
be complete through one full cycle. This is not so. See Figure (16). 

Instead, after this circle has progressed approximately a third of the 
way through its cycle, it is faded out. In fact, this fade-out is a cross- 
dissolve with another action of a larger horizontally elliptical transfor- 
mation of the circle. This new elliptical transformation cross-dissolves, 
or fades-in near the ending of its own cycle. The larger figure deceler- 
ates to a stop as it forms into its final elliptic figure. The smaller circle, 
which began the sequence, fades-in over this action. It is now ready to 
begin again at the same position from which it started before. 

The elaborate cyclical character of this 24-second section, of which 
there are six repeats, does generate a strident driving rhythm that is at 
least one level more sophisticated than the film loops of Fernand Leger’s 
Ballet Mecanique* The action may not be as comic or historic, but there 
is more going on here - more of the kind of organization of forces 
which gather, rather than disperse, metrical rhythmic pattern. This is 
what we expect when any driving rhythm is set in motion in any musical 
work composed over the last four or five hundred years; examples 
abound in music from Scarlatti, Vivaldi (Seasons) to Stravinsky. 

Section Three: 

The third section takes up this strident rhythmic pace. After a pause 
consisting of a slow fade-out of the last horizontal ellipse, there follows 
an equally deliberate fade-in of an opening vertical ellipse, this being 
still another variation of the original action. This one starts its #1 point 
at the top right of the vertical axis so that a third type of action is 
announced, as shown in Figure (17). 

The momentum of the second section is restored by the action of this 
new ellipse as it moves to the right. It is followed by a second ellipse 

*See Chapter VI, p. 72. 

Figure 16 

102 Arabesque 


which appears 32 frames later in the same starting position. Then an- 
other, and another appear in a canon or rondo type action of repeats and 
superimpositions until a total of five have started at 32-frame intervals. 

Each of these fresh starts is in a different color and while centered 
vertically, the later ones are displaced slightly above or below the hori- 
zontal center. See the color strips, frames one to eleven. 

The action of run and pause in the first section was caused when the 
rightward motion was arrested and a symmetrical polar switch was sub- 
stituted. This is taken up by a similar alternation. These new ellipse 
actions run through each fifth of their complete cycle at which stage the 
points form five ellipses that are spaced symmetrically in the field. The 
five ellipses undergo the same symmetrical polar switch, or reversal, first 
in X, then in Y, then in X and Y, (causing the five ellipses to shrink to a 
point and then open back to their original size). Finally, at the fourth of 
these fraction stages, there is once more an X-axis polar switch. See 
Figure (17). 

More than is usually the case, the illustrations fail to convey so much 
as a hint of the quality of the motions involved at this point of the film, 
because a form of “counterpoint” develops at this juncture which can be 
described better than it can be illustrated with any limited selection of 
still frames from the motion - a counterpoint of smooth flowing action 
that resides more or less “within” the driving rightward motion. The two 
retain their separate identities while neither diminishes the other. 

Six different superimposures in different colors are on the screen at 
once. After the opening moments of this canon, the action has increased 
in complexity until the smooth symmetrical motions superpose with the 
rightward driving motions at all times. Yet, each retains its identity. The 
opening build-up to this is matched by a closing retard, finally dwelling 
upon the action of the last ellipses that oscillate slowly by means of a 
series of the same X-axis polar switch. See frames eleven to twenty, 

Figure (17). 

Section Four: 

The fourth section is a play with fractions. Like Section Two, it begins 
with a circle that commences a rightward drive to its third fraction 
where three circles are arrayed horizontally across the frame. Upon 


Figure 17 

104 Arabesque 


Figure 18 

106 Arabesque 

these three circles, three vertical ellipses appear. From these starting 
positions, each one advances, not rightward as each time before, but 
upward. In effect these actions have been turned ninety degrees counter- 
clockwise. All three actions begin simultaneously, but all three actions 
are timed to a different low-order fraction - namely the third, fourth and 
fifth fractions. The consequence of this is a changing action pattern 
across the frame at all times as each vertical, upward moving column 
slows in turn to its own whole number fractional resolve. See Figure (18). 

The first fraction resolve that shows is the fifth, which appears on the 
left, then the fourth on the right, then the third at center, then the second 
fifth on the left and the second fourth (which is the one-half fraction 
resolve). The third fifth is followed now by the second third, the third 
fourth and final fifth, and at last all three columns resolve to three ellipses. 
Once again they are superimposed by the same three circles of the 
opening which advance rightward till this action resolves to the end 
of a full cycle - at the circle. 

This triple play action offers another hint of new ways with optical 
counterpoint. An arbitrary working out of three fractional sequences 
hardly constitutes a fugue. But consider the coincidental timing that 
matches the departure and return of the three vertical actions with the 
three circle elements of the horizontal action. A more elaborate plan of 
departures and arrivals and the various patterns of their layout in the 
optical field could be constructed now. I begin to imagine what it was 
like to compose the fugues produced in great numbers by the legion of 
polyphonic composers. 

Section Five: 

This is an interim section during which various border fragments (more 
on these later) jump, skip and step, in and out, with a free rhythmic play 
against an aural percussive accompaniment. 

Section Six: 

The sixth section presents several examples of various opportunities for 
optical composition. It begins with a canon based upon the first 360th 
fraction presented at the beginning of Arabesque. This 0. to IS action, 
completed in approximately four seconds, holds while a second action 

Figure 19 

108 Arabesque 

begins, rotated 72 degrees around. Four seconds later a third begins, 
rotated another 72 degrees. Then another begins and finally the fifth is 
completed. The five figures have now formed a pentagram of curved 
linearity - a strong image found in Gothic rose windows of Europe, in 
turn derived from Islamic figures. See Figure (19). 

With the pentagram completed by the fifth repeat of the 0. to IS 
action, all five continue in unison through their X-polarity switch, as in 
the opening section; then the second 360th fraction is completed and 
halfway into the Y-polarity switch, the retrogression begins as in the 
opening events. The conclusion is “taken apart” much in the manner by 
which the starting of this section was “assembled.” 

Examples of ideas for further study abound here. One should usually 
avoid assembling elements piece by piece, while each piece, already in 
place, remains static, waiting for the whole to be completed. Assembling 
elements that way gathers accumulating stasis. It would seem that this is 
a valid optical canon, because ways can be found to overcome the static 
factor. In this section of Arabesque , even the aural action is a factor that 
contributes to minimizing stasis* 

Doubling of voices (repeating an action in unison - however it is 
transpositioned about the field) should be avoided. Although the penta- 
gram which is produced is an evocative image in motion, still that motion 
is strongly kaleidoscopic - an avoided term and an avoided effect, most 
of the time, because the term and the effect are overused. Symmetries 
generated by kaleidscope or snowflake are not unwelcome. But like 
medication, overuse quickly becomes overdose. Doubling of voices pro- 
duces redundancy of motion too. Kaleidoscopics and doublings are both 
quickly overdone. 

Composing this section offered the most difficult choices. It remains 
temporally dubious - probably the first section where actions begin to 
drag. Perhaps it is too deliberate, too slow for its place in the total 
scheme. It is not a miracle of perfect timing, unfortunately. 

In this analysis, these paragraphs constitute a cautionary section. 
Surely, caution should be exercised with the very idea that static parts 

*See Chapter VIII. Digital interrelations of aural/visual composition point the way around these 
problems of design. 


Figure 20 

110 Arabesque 

can be built into a canonical structure. The goal of action cannot ever be 
a static image. Why sit still for the tedious procedure of composing 
optical stasis? This violates the primary logic of the idea that “motion 
molds time.” All of art history spans the age of timeless, permanent art. 
We are accustomed to expect visual stasis. On the other hand, art in 
motion is an uncommon idea that must be cultivated. It is best, for now, 
to discover, then count, the ways motion molds time. 

Section Seven: 

Arabesque s final section is a play upon symmetrical action which is 
derived from switching horizontal polarity values. Several new full-field 
variations of this recurring action are played in canon against them- 
selves. They produce a rich texture of color and action as a fanfare 
conclusion with appropriate sound. See Figure (20). 

It might be expected that the driving action of earlier sections would 
belong here. But this time more symmetrical action with more scale and 
breadth of dynamics provides the bombast of a cadenza while its sym- 
metry retains a sense of resolution that is called for here as an ending. 
The early rightward drive carried the action forward, onward and up- 
ward. Now this symmetry, which at its peak is as forceful as the driving 
rhythms, produces actions that summarize without introducing new 
ideas. Finally the symmetrical action is allowed to dwindle away in a 
quiet resolution. 

A few graphic details remain to be described. First, the same switch 
of polarity used throughout this composition has still another application 
as a rhythmic framing instrument such as the percussion instruments of 
an orchestra. The line drawn by the action at the first 360th fraction is an 
inverted loop; Its Y-axis is reduced and its X-axis is extended, then 
the action is cut at a certain point so that a loop is created which repeats 
as an unchanging rhythmic pattern. 

This loop, too, is hardly different from Leger’s washerwoman. Critics 
have reminded me many times of this, objecting to the “jump-cut” in 
what is otherwise a smooth action. I respond that the jump adds a per- 
cussive slapstick snap to the action, a welcome contrast. This action, 
used sometimes at the sides or below and inverted above, in one case 
helps to diminish the static aggregation of the assembling pentagram 



Figure 21 

112 Arabesque 

figures. It is an experimental device. I wonder if it will not one day be 
considered very naive. See Figures (16) and (19). 

A second detail is a further elaboration of this framing device made 
into an ornate border used at the opening and ending titles. Not just a 
small piece of action around the 360th fraction, but longer segments 
from throughout the entire cycle are squeezed in the Y-axis, then re- 
peated around the four sides of the frame. These in turn are repeated one 
upon another to produce the intricacies of the border pattern seen in the 
illustration, Figure (21). 

Color throughout the film is the result of another exploration of pho- 
tographic color dynamics. More dynamic than my other films, the color 
is in constant flux. Color changes almost every frame in smooth trans- 
formations by means of the installation of a color wheel at the optical 
focus of the condenser light source. The wheel is turned mechanically as 
a sequence of frames is filmed producing an ungainly-to-control but ef- 
fective random serialization of the color patterning for the entire film* 

Music for Arabesque is related to its title and to my reasons for 
identifying with the subject. Islamic design, hand in hand with its 
geometry and calligraphy, was a source of inspiration in this work. I had 
recently come to know of Pythagorean influences which spread south 
and east from Greece into Islamic culture prior to its establishment in 
the monastic libraries of Europe. I sensed that the indirect meandering of 
the casual connections between Islamic ideas of cosmos, music, 
geometry and architecture had the quality and shape of an arabesque. 

Once again, as with so many works before, I was obliged to search 
for given music to fit the completed essay of my visual composition. 

This time, I was reasonably satisfied with what was found. The im- 
provisational sound track is the excellent work of an Iranian national 
scholar who teaches at UCLA, Manoocheher Sadeghi. The source of his 
performance was classical Iranian Santour music. 

Sec my references to the color problems, photographic vs. video phosphors, p. 90, Chapter VIII. 

Chapter X 

From Music to Visual Art and Back 

Someday the term digital harmony may be a commonplace expression 
associated with a major evolution of twentieth century art technology. 
Because of digital harmony, music becomes visible. Performance 
escapes the bondage of time. Time achieves a totally new condition of 
substantiality. In this chapter I will explain each of these three ideas. 

First, consider this nontechnical outline of a few principles that 
should be known about digital systems. Numerous microscopic memory 
locations hold signal bits, “on or off.” In the nomenclature of digital 
electronics, a bit is the smallest subunit of signal. Usually bits cluster 
into words consisting of 8, 16, 36 or more bits: 


This row might be a 16 bit word with its first bit (at the right) “on” (x); 
its second, third and fourth bits “off” (o); its fifth bit, on and the next 
two, off, etc. reading right to left. The least significant bit is at the right. 

This binary word translates into the number, 047221 (base 8). It 
could as well represent sixteen dots on a television screen or letters of a 
text or a fragment of an audio wave form. In ordinary memory devices, 
billions of bits may be stored more or less with security. They can be 
shifted around in digital systems, performing tasks of logic and manipu- 
lation and performing processes with images, sounds and words. This 
digital bit storage principle is probably among the century’s greatest 

Unlike film or the phonograph groove or even magnetic tape, the 
binary digital signal is almost invulnerable. This must be explained. In 


fact, most digital signal carriers are quite as destructible as film, groove 
or tape. But optical or aural signals, translated into a pattern of digital 
bits, in effect, transform into a sum of on or off information. 

Simply stated, on or off means just that. There is no halfway. 

Either the signal is there or it is not. There can be no progressive signal 
degeneration. This is ideally true when a signal is maintained and pro- 
cessed within a dependable computer system. Relocating, over and over, 
gigantic conglomerate patterns of bit signals can be accomplished almost 
without bit error.* 

Regardless how the composer elects to compose the waveform and 
tempo of his composition, digital signal invulnerability permits him to 
play, section for section, over and over, at fast or slow speed, making cor- 
rections or changes as he chooses, as often and as extensively as he 
needs, but still retaining his composition on a record possessing that 

Contrast this with the thirty-year-old magnetic recording technology. 
Generation for generation rerecording means progressive and intoler- 
able degeneration of the quality of the signal. 

All nondigital recording of sound or image requires start up and shut 
down time, needed in order for any system to reach play/record speed 
or to stop. These systems are all dependent upon some mechanical way 
of advancing the time record in actual physical motion past some sort of 
pickup reading or writing device. Temporal stability is a critical mechan- 
ical problem whether or not a particular system may include the best 
solid-state signal processing. 

On the other hand, because all computer systems synchronize by 
precise clock timing (all solid-state, no moving parts), any music or 
optical sequence can be duplicated, edited, played and replayed, forward 
or backward, fast or slow, a fragment at a time. The signal is stored as a 
digital pattern that is called up at will at a specific clock rate from a 
memory device which routinely checks for signal (bit) error. The record 

*For an example just how error free the binary signal can be in some digital devices: “In a high- 
performance magnetic disk memory the errors caused by dirt and other mechanical problems cor- 
rupt approximately one bit in 10 billion bits. Coding for the detection of errors reduces the error rate 
to one bit in 10 trillion bits.” From Scientific American, August 1980, Volume 243, Number 2; R. M. 
White, Disk-Storage Technology p. 139. 

1 16 From Music to Visual Art and Back 

is in fact free of background noise - an invulnerable image, including its 
time dimension, which is safe in memory until committed to one or 
another transportable storage package. 

The typewriter on which I compose this text is a digital computer 
word processor. No matter how slowly I write, rewrite, erase and write 
again, all the text is stored in memory until I call for a printout. Then, 
my tedious daylong labor comes forth faultlessly onto paper at an 
exact character-per-second rate. If this were music or image - as it 
soon will be - the same editing and composing powers would prevail. 

Now to discuss the three ideas of the opening paragraph which were: 

1. Music becomes visible. 

2. Performance escapes the bondage of time. 

3. Time achieves a certain substantiality. 

Music becomes visible through various developments. This book shows 
how a complementarity with a graphics of motion is one of music’s 
present great potentials. In lesser ways altogether, digital music compos- 
ing programs include applications of everyday computer graphic 
features. Waveform plots and envelope graphs directly aid composers. 
Time is better represented on a visual computer plot than by conven- 
tional musical notation. And there are other ways to employ graphic 
displays to aid in music composition. 

Concerning the second idea - that a performer is somehow bound to 
the requirements of timing exactness, and will escape that bondage with 
future digital systems - the following is a brief view of the restraints 
which time places on our ability to perform music and how this may 

My experience with early training in music is typical. At age nine or 
ten, I was given piano lessons. (Beethoven was, . . . “standing in front of 
the clavier and weeping,” probably at age four.*) The drudgery, more 
than tears, and the impatience with one’s clumsy beginnings, and the 
insult to the ear, are obstacles that must be surmounted at an early age. I 
reached this conclusion in only a few months. Yet this was not exactly 

^Alexander Wheelock Thayer, Life of Beethoven, revised and edited by Elliot Forbes (Princeton, 
1967), p. 57. 


the problem. 

To fail or to succeed at a career in the performing arts comes by 
one’s skill with time. One must meet the challenge to organize his 
senses and his muscular coordinations to the “microsecond.” The tim- 
ings are simply critical by the necessity to meet each musical moment 
on time. Actor, mime, pianist, orator, comic or violinist, all show this 
mastery with time. Training to maintain that skill demands their atten- 
tion and practice throughout the remainder of a career. 

A real microsecond (not my figurative use of the term, as above) can 
be divided in half, then quartered, then halved and otherwise divided 
several ways by casual choice of a computer’s programming parameters. 
The point is, timing precision is easy. Performance constraints with time 
are surmounted, not by training, but by the capability to shape and 
secure a final perfect record by the computer’s editing process as noted 
in my introductory paragraphs of this chapter. Thus performance escapes 
the bondage of time; but I would imagine this is an insufficient argument 
and so will offer another. 

If weak in composition, this century has produced an extraordinary 
proliferation of sublime solo and ensemble performance. Probably more 
and greater world renowned soloists and orchestras perform today than 
in any previous epoch. Few would accept any argument on behalf of 
synthesized Bach, whether by synthesizer or by computer, so I must 
continue on with the argument for a digital system’s role in future per- 
formance functions. 

Bach manipulated the Musical Offering theme assuming, and prob- 
ably accepting without question or complaint, the known constraints of 
performance and instrument. Today altered scopes of performance and 
instruments might suggest to him some different manipulations. The 
Offering has often been transcribed for some such reasons. Bach’s 
visions might change once more with an instrument to interweave com- 
position with performance. He might welcome a means to combine 
writing, listening and rewriting with ease - correcting or deleting and 
refining closer to his mind and feelings than possible with pen on 
paper. For all that, the image of Bach at a computer terminal is as senti- 
mental and ludicrous as the cliche it has become in popular home 
computer journals. 

1 18 From Music to Visual Art and Back 

If timing can be matched micromoment for moment by computer, 
what about the “feeling” of a performance? The subtlety of musical 
experience is another matter: who should judge matters as to how each 
detail of a work should “feel,” if not the composer himself? Bach at a 
computer keyboard is less dubious than programmers “having a go” at 
interpreting Bach. It is wrong, of course, and anachronistic, to attempt to 
recreate Baroque music with a computer. 

However, it is not wrong at all to compose original work for this new 
instrumentation. This, then, is the most powerful argument. The argu- 
ment is as true today as it was when Bach himself composed the book of 
studies that explored The Well-Tempered Clavier, i.e: the compromised, 
adjusted and retuned keyboard, a technical development just becoming 
accepted in his time. It would be difficult to overstate the advantages 
which reside in a technical advancement so far-reaching as this revolu- 
tion in the very process of music making. It is irrelevant that “player 
pianos” and other nineteenth century automata, the music box, calliope 
and all the others, were doomed to be evaluated merely as novelties. 

This revolution relates to a humane compromise with the very essentials 
of the ways of making music. Digital systems procedures greatly im- 
prove the method for making music by several magnitudes of im- 
portance. This will be explained as a third point of argument. 

Incidentally there is a note of hope for those who know music well 
and rightfully loathe nearly every piece of “electronic” music which 
they have heard. At this writing, I believe we approach a benchmark in 
comprehending new theories of tone generation by digital waveform 
synthesis. I am not sufficiently informed to include details here except to 
repeat my own observation that most electronic instruments up to the 
beginning of this decade have been made upon false principles, proven 
false by the ear. Thus, despite this hatchet upon the past, my optimism 
for the future of digital systems is informed by new theoretical work 
upon waveform synthesis. My expectation for genuine musical enjoy- 
ment is unswerving. 

The third point of this chapter, about the substantiality of time, is 
related to all the above arguments - as it were, the complement to them. 
Music is fleeting. This very old observation, repeated by scientists, an- 
thropologists and critics, makes sense, although the performer hardly 


knows of this. As he practices for performance he loses the sense of the 
fleeting nature of music because he plays and plays again each detail, 
shaping it like clay. Its substantiality is in his hands; he feels something 
more solid than gossamer in the fleeting pattern of tone. 

Music, as a digital record in a computer composing instrument, is 
accessible to the composer in the performer’s sense of its substantiality. 
With digital system repeatability, time gains that substantiality. The re- 
peatability and the accessibility we gain, if a musical signal is generated 
as digital signal in a computer, systematically improves its “materiality.” 
We gain the power to shape the musical signal as substance. 

The composer rarely had this power. Performance. thus escapes its 
previously permanent status as the historic hostage to the “trained” per- 
former or orchestral group who, ostensibly, are the masters with time. 
The fleeting insubstantiality of music is transformed. Composing becomes 
more like molding clay, because of the hands-on process of digital mem- 
ory manipulations. The composer may mold this particular substance 
with his instant, interactive responses to the sensitivity of his own ear. 
Time is mastered and turned into substance. 

Add to this substantiated hands-on process of sound, the same 
hands-on process of the color image in motion. A revolution in intui- 
tional intimacy with sound and color is the result. The distances from 
music to visual art and back have been shortened by this newfound sub- 
stantiality. The digital hardware is at hand. The software calls for a 
collective exploration of principles of digital harmony as they apply to 
image and sound alike. 

120 From Music to Visual Art and Back 


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Chapter XI 

Summary and Prospect 

Less than thirty years have passed since the beginning of computer 
graphics. We are witnessing the materialization of another fertile domain 
of architectonic pattern. Before us lies an optical domain which may 
prove to be quite as vast as the historic world of music. I work within 
this visual domain of harmonic potentialities experiencing the strong 
challenge to creative skill that composers of the baroque or classic 
epochs must have felt. 

Now and then throughout the several centuries of musical life in 
Europe, through the music of some scholarly composers one feels their 
sense of wonder at the splendor of musical possibilities spread before 
them. One is reminded of Padre Antonio Soler or Domenico Scarlatti, in 
eighteenth century Spain; both consummated their lives engrossed in 
constructing works that explore merely within a few particular forms for 
the keyboard - essays numbering many many hundreds. These were 
exercises in the minutiae of harmonic complexity. They possess an ele- 
gance of logic and style which is prized today, not the least, among our 
mathematicians. Tidy as their riddles were - their answers are fresh 
today with unexpected novelty and pleasure. 

Few other preoccupations brought such consistent rewards. Nations 
were founded during that era, and history books record vast military 
enterprises side by side with mechanical, scientific and philosophical 
refinement and invention. History instills an air of distant quaintness in 
our minds, but we revere, celebrate and enjoy intimately the music of 
that age today as if it were our own living present. As indeed it is. What 
else of their private thought do we know so well as we know their 


literature and that extraordinary music? 

Is it possible we could witness a repetition of one of those historic 
chapters? Could we participate in another age of invention devoted to 
the curiosity of the intellect and artistic aspiration? Is it possible to enter- 
tain the idea of repeating such an epoch, mindful today of some of the 
grim alternatives? Might our culture, after its hundreds of years of hard 
enterprise and its material triumphs and failures, entertain the mere idea 
of less of that and more of this - this kind of intellectual software and 

Technically foreseeable and without waste or further harm to envi- 
ronment, it could happen. Indeed, I see an epoch which in many ways 
might rival the intellectual curiosity and creativity of the great genera- 
tions of European music. I know that the marvels of video and computer 
technology would allow this. I know there is a widespread disposition 
toward the idea and there are the skills for an unprecedented creativity at 
our universities and among the young generations. Hand in hand with 
these new dispositions, it is rumored that we stand at the threshold of an 
altogether different production and consumption structuring in the mar- 
ketplace for arts, high and low. 


There remain, no doubt, objections to the picture presented by this book. 
Some would call my ideas just more unneeded science fiction. And 
again some objection might be due to a misreading of my own beliefs 
regarding cybernetic aspects of the computer. 

If this is necessary, then, forthwith I will say that I am on the side of 
Joseph Weizenbaum, not my friend Marvin Minsky, as to whether or not 
computers will . . write really good music or draw highly meaningful 

pictures ”* Flatly I will express aloud my disbelief at the implication 

of these words. Computers will do no such thing, of themselves - not 
ever! Indeed art is a matter of, “judgment - not calculation.” 

There are less subtle misunderstandings. There are attitudes that 
assume the legitimacy of a Stradivarius or a Steinway as necessary musi- 

* Joseph Weizenbaum, Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation (San 
Francisco, 1976), p. 157. 

124 Summary and Prospect 

cal “machines.” (No one expects a piano to “write really good music,” 
fortunately.) But many of those persons, who accept the role of musical 
instruments, can see no possibility that a computer may function any- 
where in the highly specialized environments of the fine arts or the 
popular arts. 

The high-water mark of mechanical invention reached in this century 
was not high enough. Consensus holds that the two-century-old Stradi- 
varius is supreme in its field today. Man-machine responses are nowhere 
else as sensitive as those between a man and a violin. The best tech- 
nology of this century has not forestalled the decline of our once bold 
faith in machines. And even the general idea of technological art is much 
discredited, though probably for good reasons which spilled from dem- 
onstrations in unlikely places intended to “prove” technological art. 

Joseph Weizenbaum’s concern, and the debate, is obviously over 
more comprehensive issues. Of course, I’m not qualified to add to a 
debate on the serious issue of computer power vs. human reason. I have 
wanted only to dispel misapprehensions that could jeopardize the thesis 
of this book on the future of an art which is intimately bound to com- 
puter technology’s instrumentation. 

On the issue of geometry vs. biomorphic form, usually meaning the 
hand-drawn image, objections frequently come from those on the other 
side of a controversy that can be traced throughout cultural history. 

From classic vs. romantic and Apollonian vs. Dionysian divisions, from 
Mondrian or Mies van der Rohe vs. Kandinsky or Gaudi, obviously the 
earth has accommodated both sides, for a long time - if not peacefully. 
Overrating divisions of this sort is a pastime. 

Plato contributed these words on behalf of geometric form, appar- 
ently an issue in his era: 

For I say that these things are beautiful not in relation to something else, but naturally and perma- 
nently beautiful, in and of themselves, and give certain characteristic pleasures,. . . And colors of 
this sort are beautiful because they have the same character and produce the same pleasures.* 

Sometimes the dichotomy between geometric and biomorphic form 
manifests as logic vs. sentiment, or abstraction vs. representation. For 
some, there is a pervasive distaste for the geometrical image or abstrac- 

*PhiIehus, 51c. Quoted in Rickey, Constructivism, p. 9. 


tion. The complement of this feeling motivates the effort to anthropomor- 
phize geometry, abstraction and machines. So Disney required that even 
the “abstraction” of a Bach fugue be turned into representations of 
parts of the violin, Beethoven into centaurs and nymphs and Stravinsky 
into prehistoric monsters in local tar-pits. In truth, these are all obvious 
misrepresentations and too clever - like naming a computer “Hal.”* 

Geometry and reality are not disparate entities, one cold and imper- 
sonal, nor is the other all that lovable, of course. The entire universe, and 
the earth’s biosphere of plant and animal, and the idiosyncrasies of geog- 
raphy, are in fact, only the “idiosyncrasies” of geometry. All derive from 
one geometry, as I see it; all derive from one mind, for all I know. 

Because my computer compositions thus far manipulated points, 
straight lines or simple constructions of these elements, this does not 
spell the computer’s complete visual repertoire. Computer geometry, in- 
finitely diverse, as in nature itself, constrains graphic diversity merely as 
a limit of resolution. The higher the resolution, the greater the visual 
diversity . 0 This axiom is true in X Y Z dimensions of visual space, 
sound and the dimension of time as well. 

Boundaries of resolution expand year after year as computer memory 
expands. Computer technology’s peculiar ominous novelty diminishes 
year by year. As surely as the piano’s refinement consistently progressed 
over a few hundred years, another process of refinement is occurring 
today. The instrumentalities of digital harmony for music and art be- 
come progressively more available to the artist and he will use these for 
greatness as the artist has consistently used the instruments and the ideas 
of each era to recall its greatness. 

Long live this revolution. 

* See Fantasia and 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

°See p. 80, Figure 12. Also consider some of the elaborate detail of Arabesque. 

126 Summary and Prospect 

Chapter XII 

Do It Yourself 

This chapter contains the implementation of the same Pascal programs 
that were used to generate the digital harmony patterns that illustrate 
text in Figures (1) and (13) to be found on pp. 50 and 98. Of course you 
should refer to the text of Chapters V and VI to understand the function 
of differential dynamics and be aware that patterns generated by these 
rudimentary programs are not interesting as one picture in itself but are 
basically patterns of motion. In my system, I use the UCSD Pascal ver- 
sion 1.5, and in the past, I have used Basic and Fortran. In order to create 
digital harmony on your own, you will need a system which runs Pascal 
(or, if not, it will be necessary to convert the image generating algorithms 
into whatever language you do have); in addition, you should have a 
reasonably high-quality CRT display system* 

Still 100 x 100 addressable pixels will suffice if you don’t mind all your 
designs looking slightly old-fashioned like quaint needlepoint. This is in 
fact no laughing matter; to the contrary, a scale of resolution as low as 
100, should (and will) render graphics of elegance superior to any I have 
yet seen. Again I stress that our interest is no longer with “pretty pic- 
tures;’’ we want to create motion that may be pretty, elegant or funny 
but not dumb. Action, the subject of this book from end to end, points 
the way beyond the obvious shortcomings of twinkle boxes and most 
patterning programs. As stated elsewhere, many displays filled with 
“boiling’’ action seem quite static nevertheless, due to the pointlessness 

*A handbook containing details of these programs in Fortran and Basic, and more general instruc- 
tions, will be available soon. 


of the action or its unimaginative planning or its triviality. 

For capturing the action-patterns of these programs, a video recorder 
would serve except for a limitation which must be explained this way: 
few small systems are fast enough to generate graphics in motion in real 
time. The thousands of stepping images of a motion sequence are gener- 
ated slowly in small computers; even one image per minute is a rea- 
sonable computing speed. At present, home video recording machines 
do not take images one frame at a time (as they will soon). So, a movie 
camera is needed, with a means of controlling the shutter and film ad- 
vance of the camera from your software. 

This latter step generally involves a subroutine which can control a 
couple of bits on an input/output port, and may have to be written in 
assembly language code depending upon the specific high-level language 
you are using (see detailed discussions of interfacing cine cameras to 
computers in various issues of Tekniques, the Tektronix monthly journal 
for graphics users of the 4051). 

The simplest differential pattern that we can generate is at column A 
of Figure (1) p. 50; see the listing on p. 134. The key variables which 
you should set in the Pascal program are NPOINTS, which is the 
number of points within one frame; NFRAMES, the number of frames 
which the program will make; STEPSTART, controls the starting pattern 
beginning the action at frame 1; STEPEND, determines the ending 
pattern at frame (NFRAMES). For your initial test, select the following 
values NPOINTS: = 60, STEPSTART: =0.0, STEPEND: = 1.0 and 
NFRAMES: =240 for an action sequence to run ten seconds on a film 
running at the common 24 frames per second rate. Or you could set 
NFRAMES: =9 and all the parameters at the values printed in the listing, 
to duplicate exactly the nine frames of the illustration, column A Figure 
(1) and compare the results. 

These listings contain explanatory {comments} so marked. General 
remarks about all of the programs will follow these references to each of 
the three different variations. 

Now, if you look at the listing, p. 135, for Column B & C, notice that 
the action is within a circular field and is expressed by polar coordinates; 
to generate this type of pattern, a new variable is needed: RADIUS. 
Selecting a radius exposes the points to a differential dynamic force 

130 Do It Yourself 

which increases with the point’s position along the radius. Each point 
moves at its own angular rate differentially according to its position 
along the radius. For these examples, the degree of differential intro- 
duced is predetermined in the program by variable A, and you can 
manipulate the equation which gives value to A once you have more 
experience with the technique. 

Setting STEPEND: = 1.0 and NFRAME:=240 as above will com- 
plete one full cycle which returns all the points to their starting position 
along the original radius line. Again, if you film this sequence, the run- 
ning time will be ten seconds, a rate which will prove to be too fast 
to see all of the whole fraction patterns as they occur. Add a zero to the 
parameter. NFRAMES:=2400 simply lengthens the period of action by 
a factor of ten; you will see how much detail of action is revealed. 
Increase NPOINTS:=360 (the value used m Arabesque) to see how 
much more detailed the pattern of each frame becomes. 

At this point, a footnote of interest: compare types of drawn anima- 
tion with this new medium of computer graphics. Were you to draw by 
hand the points of this sequence (which you simply could not do, inci- 
dentally) you might have the following thoughts about the unmanage- 
ability of the task. Bad enough to make 240 drawings, but what about 
2400 drawings? Unthinkable. Note that having changed your program 
from NFRAMES: = 240, to NFRAMES: = 2400, you merely added one 
zero to make 2160 more images. That’s easier than making 2160 draw- 
ings, but the point is not to make art easier, of course. The first idea is the 
important one to consider; you simply cannot draw this kind of pattern 
in motion by any way other than by digital computer graphics. This is an 
unprecedented new fact and a new opportunity in the visual arts. 

In the Column B & C program, not only is the action within a 
circular region as pictured, but the line also wraps around the center. All 
of the rose curves of the type R = a sin n (0) may be generated by 
some slight modifications of this program. The numerous polar 
coordinate type patterns which appear dynamically as “moments” of 
harmonic resonance (more orderly in appearance than the immediately 
preceding and succeeding patterns) can be generated. For example, see 
Figure (5) in which a 4-lobed rose transforms into a 3-lobed rose by a 
progression of intermediate, less simple patterns. Refer to the chapter VI 


discussion of that illustration. TD and RD type parameters can be 
written into the above polar coordinate equation controlling theta 
and radius. 

Figure (13) of Chapter IX on page 98, illustrates the root action prin- 
ciple which is used with variations throughout the entire composition of 
my film Arabesque. The listing, p. 136 generates a circle of points which 
move as outlined in the text. Setting NPOINTS: = 60, as listed, allows 
the program to compute reasonably faster than it would if the positions 
of 360 points must be calculated. Obviously, wise choices of your op- 
tions in selecting values for NPOINTS: and NFRAMES: allows you to 
explore these fields of pattern and action most productively. 

Again, as with the other examples, setting STEPEND: = 1.0 produces 
one complete cycle. Selecting with ingenuity and imagination all the 
other values of any algorithm allows you to explore the variety of 
dynamic pattern waiting to be mined - like gold - in any differential pat- 
tern system such as this. 

Reading Chapter IX, the analysis of Arabesque, will serve to suggest 
further variations upon this simple program which I explored only for a 
period of four or five months. Certainly this program concept was not 
deeply “mined” for its fullest possibilities. Perhaps one third of all the 
film material that was prepared for the film was rejected and might one 
day be used in another film. It is significant to realize how meager my 
experience was in exploring the Arabesque material, and how limited all 
exploration is to date, in this area of computer graphics* 

Here is a vein of “ore” differing from the usual. Mining this vein 
may be an infinite process. This “vein” opens to our exploration an 
infinity such as the twelve tones of music have to offer. I’ll try another 
metaphor: we haven’t explored here as long, or as well, as we have 
explored the moon. 

For example, you can add to any of the three simple programs listed 
on these pages, many forms of mirror image “reflections.” If you do so 
you will soon see how to recreate an image sequence like the flip-book. 

*The full-page chapter heads are an example of another kind of exploration. The multi-lobed 
patterns of the polar-coordinate family presented in Figures (3). (4) and (5) are treated to a few 
of the variations that derive from parametric variables and multiple exposures with various color 
filters. Each Chapter number is associated with the number of lobes of that pattern. 

132 Do It Yourself 

By running through a reiteration loop of some sort, with X or Y or both 
coordinates inverted, or switching “TD” and “RD” parameters simi- 
larly, the combination of original and its reiteration form symmetries 
about a vertical or horizontal axis. Symmetries, doublings, rotations, 
counterpoints or canons (following one sequence with another and 
another in staggered order), these are only the most obvious procedures 
among an enormous range of possibilities for pattern, motion pattern 
enrichment and variety. 

It’s up to you, do it yourself. Do it! 







X , Y , 







= 60 ; 


= 9; 


= o; 





: = 170; 
:= 38; 


:= 18; 








{ X LEFT } 



T IME : = ( FRAME-1 ) / ( NFRAMES- 1 ); 














134 Do It Yourself 



CONST DEG=0. 0174533 ; 




A , X , Y , 





NPOINTS : =60; 

NFR AMES := 9; 


STEPEND : = 1/60; 


RADIUS := 85; 
XCENTER : =140; 
YCENTER := 96; 




TIME : = ( FRAME-1 ) / ( NFR AMES- 1 ); 




A : = 360 * STEP * POINT; { + = CCW ROTATION } 


DR AWXY ( ROUND ( X ) , ROUND ( Y ) ) ; 

CAMERAC 120) ; 










CONST DEG=0. 017^533; 



A , X , Y , R , 






= 60; 


= 9; 


= 0; 




= 6 0; 


: = 1 40 ; 


= 96; 











TIME : = ( FRAME-1 )/( NFRAMES- 1 ); 




A : = -90 + 360 * POINT / NPOINTS ; 

R : = 3 * RADIUS ; 

X : = COS( A*DEG) * RADIUS + POINT * STEP * R ; 

X : = XCENTER - (R/2) + ( ROUND( X+ ( R/2) ) MOD ROUND ( R ) ); 

Y : = YCENTER + SI N ( A*DEG ) * RADIUS ; 

DRAWXY ( ROUND ( X ) , ROUND ( Y ) ); 







136 Do It Yourself 












FALSE : ( C : ''CHAR 



CAM . A : =- 1 6295 ; { 




FOR J : = 1 TO 400 DO J:=J; { 

C AM . A : =- 1 629 6 ; { 


FOR J : = 1 TO TIME DO J:=J; 



MOVETOC X , Y ) ; 


MOVETOC X , Y ) ; 
















Audio-Visual Music: 

Color Music- Abstract Film 1944 

This article from 1944 (presented here in a very slightly abridged version) offers a breathtakingly 
farsighted comprehension of new technology and its impact on the arts. The young Whitney 
brothers, having completed their truly revolutionary, modernist Five Abstract Film Exercises, prove 
here that they understood, deeply, the philosophieal and sociological ("Marshall McLuhan") im- 
plications of the film medium as well as the infant television industry - implications that only now. 
40 years later, are finally coming to fruition. 

It is perhaps hard for us today, w ith a generation of hindsight schooled by many recent radical 
experiments in the auditory and visual arts, to realize how revolutionary the Five Film Exercises 
seemed at that time, but many people who witnessed the first screenings of those films (including 
sculptor Harry Bertoia and Jacques Ledoux of the Brussels festival) have told me how shocked 
audiences were by the "unearthly," "electronic" music and the luminous "neon" images that 
seemed to have dropped into our time zone somehow from the science-fiction future. 

Another index of the absolute pioneer status of these young artists is their paragraph about the 
unfeasibility of full-screen sequences of color without graphic forms. 1 am reminded of the touching 
passage in Kandinsky's Reminiscences wherein he describes his fear and trembling upon "discover- 
ing" his first nonobjective painting - one of his own representational canvases accidentally turned 
on its side in the twilit studio - which he didn't quite know what to make of. Coincidentally, about 
that same time (1944) Oskar Fischinger experimented with full-screen color in Color Rhythm and 
Radio Dynamics - films he never showed publicly - and Dwinell Grant in New ; York prepared a 
Color Sequence which he found too disquieting and shelved for 30 years. But 10 years later, in 
the mid-5()s. James Whitney would use full-screen color brilliantly in his Yantra. and more than 
20 years later Tony Conrad and Paul Sharks would exploit color flickers in films hailed as break- 
throughs by the Structural Film movement. In another dozen years from now, after videodiscs have 
published the entire body of audio-visual music (greatly enlarged by that time), then, perhaps, we 
will be able to see Five Film Exercises in their true perspective - as the first full-blown works of a 
Renaissance in the arts. - W. M. 

As technological control of new art resources has matured, so has a 
new generation of young people whose environment itself has been a 
conditioning factor toward acceptance of these resources as material of 
aesthetic experience. The main outlets of creative experience with many 
individuals of this generation is somehow channeled in modern technol- 
ogy. When this generation seeks a means of self-expression, they quite 

138 Appendix 

naturally take up photography, engage in amateur radio activity or build 
a new automobile of private design from old parts. Little can be said 
here of the exact processes involved, but in general, it is now clear that 
this "amateurism” as a conditioning factor spreads, as much as anything 
else, receptivity to new media of creative expression. This promises 
future technology-based arts of great popularity. 

Since the development of techniques of animated moving pictures, 
an art consisting of movement of visual elements within a temporal 
pattern has been a possibility. Such an art would possess all the rich 
appeal of music itself. With the development of sound cinematography, 
audio-visual relationships in complete harmony and unity of feeling 
became possible, foretelling an art utterly unique in this age. The small 
but vigorous abstract art movement of today may appear historically as 
the precursor to this abstract cinema. 

That the sound-drama film occupies the entire present motion picture 
industry may be only a temporary condition. Certainly there is promise 
of change here with the development of television. With the shuffle that 
is bound to accompany the spread of television, emphasis upon the cur- 
rently dominant category of filmed drama may subside so as to present 
in clearer perspective the full field of the cinema art, in which the com- 
mercial drama-film would be seen as only one fragment of a graduated 
scale of cinematic art. Such a scale would also include, in various 
proportions, the documentary, the surrealist/poetic and the so-called 
"abstract” film. 

The following remarks are based upon experience acquired during the 
past five-years’ work with animated abstract films. These remarks attempt 
to clarify certain issues centering around this new art medium based on 
technological resources that either are in use or are possible today. 

Perhaps no other art received so much attention and was the subject 
of such experimentation so prematurely. Leonardo speculated on the 
similarity of color and tone in De Sensu. Starting in the seventeenth 
century, a line of experimenters with color-organs stretches to the latter 
part of the nineteenth century when at last the invention of the in- 
candescent lamp and progress in optics made the color organ slightly 
more practical. 

Today, the existence of a variety of technical means, the imminent 

promise of television as an agent of communication to a broad audience, 
and the past thirty years of experiment by two diverse schools - the 
abstract film group and the experimenters with “color music” - has 
brought the medium to the threshold of actuality. Discussion and defini- 
tion of its issues and structural problems, therefore, no longer remains 
just purely speculative, without practical experience. 

The term abstract film , is unfortunate, but still more unfortunately, as 
yet no term has been coined to name an art having such unique qualities 
that it fits poorly into either music or graphic art categories. Film, though 
currently appropriate for the phrase, will become more and more mis- 
leading with the increased application of television technology. But the 
word abstract has more misleading connotations today than ever before, 
since it is widely used in current painting vocabulary. 

This medium is no more or less abstract than music, so it should not 
be burdened with the issue of abstraction in its very name. That it exists 
obviously on a level of abstraction should be a natural assumption, as it 
is with music. 

While “abstract painting” posits a silent visual art of stasis, the 
technological potential of sound film and television dictates greater con- 
cern here with the future of a medium uniting kinetic sight and sound. 
We will speak of the medium as audio-visual-music for want of a 
better name. 

Since animation procedures are the means of achieving motion, 
the subject of tempo in audio-visual-music will deal with various units 
consisting of various quantities of frames. The illusion of movement 
is achieved by a series of static images projected in rapid sequence, of 
course. This new audio-visual-music image, whether animated frame by 
frame or created by other means for screen or television, must adapt its 
basic temporal structure to the frequency of the frame projection rate. As 
a general principle, both sound and image should have a common time 
unit which would be the frequency of projected frames. Music notation, 
where it is used, would thus be converted from metronomic time values 
to frame-unit values. 

The fact that movement is not continuous actually limits rhythmic 
possibilities in the visual domain relative to that of the sound. For exam- 
ple, the minimum time unit must be one frame (1 /24th second), while 

140 Appendix 

the only possible next longer unit must be twice that amount or two 
frames of image. On the other hand, while music notes of shorter dura- 
tion than 1 / 24th second occur infrequently, notes of intermediate dura- 
tion or periodicity (between l/24th and twice and three times that l/24th 
fraction) are common. And so the animated image cannot be easily syn- 
chronized to these intermediate frequencies. Thus, it may be reasoned 
that film possesses an inherent rhythm of its own which often is 

Another determinant of audio-visual-music is the persistence-of- 
vision, and certain natural differences in our response to rhythm by eye 
and ear. With regard to our response to rapid rhythmic motions and 
alterations, some are even painful to the eye. 

A third determinant and difference between image-time and sound- 
time is the relation of graphic space to time. Space/time considerations 
are forced into a special kind of preeminence. No movement exists 
that is oblivious to time. No shape - no space - eludes movement con- 
siderations that are free of time considerations. Space and time here 
are inseparable in a very real sense. A tiny animated shape creating a 
rhythmic movement in a given space may produce one effect. The same 
action magnified many times, so as to fill the entire screen area, pro- 
duces a radically different temporal experience even though the time of 
each may be exactly the same. The difference is qualitative to a degree 
that variation upon a thematic idea is not clear by simple magnification 
or reduction of size. 

Experiment has indicated how ineffective full-screen passages of 
color, without other graphic form, can be - how ineffectual these are as a 
device to carry any rhythmic idea. Unless they are supported by a strong 
musical reinforcement, the effect is surprisingly ambiguous. Such se- 
quences of various fields of color, which might be introduced as a the- 
matic idea later to be subjected to variation and development, would 
seem to be foredoomed. And this observation reflects the apparent fail- 
ure of all color-music experiments that treated color as an independent 
visual entity having no relation to form or shape. 

What then can be the role of color in audio-visual-music? It is still 
the most vital element of the total sensory experience. Color structure 
united with a graphic-time structure is comparable to the relationship 


between orchestration and theme structure of a musical composition: the 
two contribute to a unified whole. Just as orchestration provides the 
symphonic composer with a large textural vocabulary with which he 
may build richly or thinly to his structural needs, so it is with color for 
the audio-visual-music composer. 

The fallacy of mechanically translating previously composed music 
into some visual “equivalent” is established repeatedly in critical writ- 
ings on the subject. A more fruitful, less mechanistic approach is pos- 
sible today, for truly creative possibilities arise when the image structure 
dictates or “inspires” sound structure and vice versa, or when they are 
simultaneous conceptions. This obviously is best realized when both 
parts have common creative origins. 

This unified creative potential is available today, even for the artist, 
as sound-track writing or synthesizing devices, manageable by one per- 
son, appear on the horizon along with simplified animation techniques. 

The generally accepted assumption that the cinema must be an 
industrial-cooperative art, is least likely to be so with audio-visual-music. 
The individual artist plays a role here as freely as if he were a painter. 

The artist’s access to affordable equipment is assured. Amateur cine 
equipment compares well in quality today with that of the industry. 

There already exist small enterprises that are prepared to supply special 
processing, sound recording and duplicating services to small-scale 
limited-budget filmmakers. The remaining technological problem for the 
independent artist/composer is somehow to secure final perfection of 
these new means. 

The role that television can play in the development of audio-visual- 
music probably cannot be underestimated. Undoubtedly the most striking 
quality of the television program is its intense realism; the realism of 
spot news and spontaneous programs of all sorts. But the by-product of 
this very spontaneity is disorganization - structurelessness as com- 
pared with music. It will have to be dealt with in much the same manner 
as radio deals with structureless programming, by ample use of music. 
The so-called music bridge and incidental music of radio serves this 
purpose. The relatively unorganized spontaneous portions of the radio 
program are carefully sandwiched between periods of music. Even though 
it had the enormous accumulation of all western civilization’s music 

142 Appendix 

to draw upon, radio found it necessary to employ composers to supply 
radio’s specific needs. 

It is safe to assume that television will discover a similar need for 
an audio-visual equivalent to radio’s music bridge. The need will begin 
a search beyond temporary solutions that are motivated by expediency. 
The artist with a sense of the deeper meaning of structure can make the 
distinction between a temporary solution and a structural solution. Tech- 
nological trinkets in the form of kaleidescopes and other mechanical- 
optical devices which will fill the television screen with arbitrary pattern 
and are related to music mechanically, if at all, are certainly not the 
"structural” solution to providing graphic and musical order to television. 

Television, insofar as it performs as an integral part of the new times 
and its society, will not only employ hours of audio-visual-music but it 
will perform individual works of the contemporary composers. 


Audio-Visual Music 

and Program Notes 1946 

This artists' statement and program notes for Five Film F.xercises were prepared for the catalogue 
of the first Art in Cinema festival at the San Francisco Museum of Art (Fall. 1946)- an historic 
occasion on which a whole range of European avant-garde films from the Museum of Modern Art 
in New York were screened beside new work by young American filmmakers. This festival became 
an annual event lasting into the 50s. and this showcasing of classic and new work in a museum 
setting provided the catalyst for young painters like Harry Smith and Jordan Belson to turn to film 
and their own personal versions of “audio-visual music." 

The statement of John and James Whitney exhibits a mature understanding of their art in the 
context of modern painting, and reaffirms their healthy attitude toward “the machine" as a potential 
instrument of art rather than a necessary menace to traditional handmade art product. The notes on 
the F.xercises demonstrate clearly how carefully those films were planned and executed according to 
principles of advanced music and visual theory. - W. M. 

Section One: 

Each individual who has identified himself with the abstract film 
medium has begun from scratch and devised every detail of his technical 
means. Inevitably, form under this circumstance has been preeminently 
interrelated with technique. Form is weak or it flowers just so well as the 
means are integrated. The perfection of means, however, does not pro- 
ceed along a simple forward path of progress, because this art is not a 
science with a rationale more than any other. And it is actually a very 
new thing that so much technology must be brought to bear upon an art 
form as it is in the field of the cinema. Perhaps the abstract film can 
become the freest and the most significant art form of the cinema. But 
also, it will be the one most involved in machine technology, an art 
fundamentally related to the machine. 

In our work, we have continuously sought an equilibrium between 

144 Appendix 

technical limitations and creative freedom. We have partially achieved it, 
lost it again, and now search for it once more at a higher level. Our first 
film made with an optical-printer but without sound, is a case in point; 
the equipment and the state of our general technique determined a set of 
limitations which have never since been so circumscribed. Yet within 
those limitations was found an area of freedom open to creative manipu- 
lation which has never again been so vast. This film rapidly acquired 
unity and simplicity. 

With our expanded means, including sound, today we endeavor to 
reestablish that equilibrium. This, we believe, has become possible as we 
accept the technical means at our disposal as adequate and proceed to 
widen the area of freedom within discovered and accepted limitations. 
The films produced over the five-year period since our first, seldom have 
been completed before their value to us as experiments were negated by 
new experiments following a new approach to form and with altered and 
sometimes improved equipment. Thus, they frequently manifest one 
technical quality or another that is subtly out of order with their formal 
organization. Still, they are better described as exercises than experi- 
ments, for they are rehearsals for a species of audio-visual performances 
that we can very well visualize now. 

Section Two: 

It is a commonplace to note that film and sound today have become a 
permanent unity. We are attracted by the prospects of an idiom as 
unified, bi-sensorially, as the sound film can be. 

Naturally, we have wanted to avoid weakening that unity, which 
would be the very essence of an abstract film medium. 

It occurred to us that an audience could bring with it its own dis- 
unity ing distractions in the form of numerous past associations and 
preconceptions were we to use previously composed music in relation to 
our own abstract image compositions. We, therefore, tried the simplest, 
least common, primitive music we could find. But another source for 
disunity became apparent. In this case, the dominant source of distrac- 
tion was a contradiction between the origins (the players, instruments, 
time, place, etc.) of this kind of music and animated image. 

Thereafter, little thought was given to any other consideration than to 


search for a method of creating our own sound by some means near as 
possible to the image animation process, technically and in spirit. 

Section Three: 

The sound track of all our films to date was created synthetically by the 
device which came into being as a result of these conclusions. Without 
attempting to describe it in detail here,* its principle resembles less a 
musical instrument than certain devices used for charting the rise and 
fall of ocean waves. Pendulums instead of waves create the ebb and flow 
movement. This motion is greatly demagnified and registered on a nar- 
row space of the motion picture film provided for a sound track. The 
patterns themselves generate tones in the sound projector. The instru- 
ment has a selection of some thirty pendulums adjusted in frequency 
relationship to each other so as to form a scale. They can be swung 
singly or in any combination. 

We value the instrument despite certain distinct limitations for an 
assortment of reasons. An immediate practical one is that it as much as 
provides us with a means where otherwise there would be none at all. 
Sound recording of original music even at the 16 mm. scale is prohibi- 
tively expensive and presents enormous difficulties for the amateur. 

Some other reasons have to do with adaptability of the instrument 
to our purposes. In composing the sound, we seek to exploit a spatial 
quality characteristic of the instrument which reinforces that effect of 
movement in space which we seek to achieve in the image. Since both 
image and sound can be time scored to fractions of a single motion 
picture frame, there is opened a new field of audio-visual rhythmic pos- 
sibilities. The quality of the sound evokes no strong image distraction 
such as was observed in other music. Consequently, the sound is easily 
integrated with the image. The scale of the instrument is adjustable to 
any intervals we may choose including quarter tones and smaller. This 
permits use of graduated ascending or descending tonal series. They cor- 
respond in quality of feeling and variability to certain types of image 
series, such as, for example, an enlarging or diminishing shape, an 

* A description can be found in Leon Becker's article “Synthetic Sound and Abstract Image" 
Hollywood Quarterly, V. 1, #1 (October, 1945) pp. 95-96. 

146 Appendix 

ascending or descending shape, or a color series. 

In concluding this section it should be observed that there is for us 
perhaps more personal freedom than is possible in any other motion 
picture field today. Our sound and image technique provide a complete 
means accessible to one creator. We believe in the future of the abstract 
film medium as one differing from the others in that it demands none of 
the large scale collaboration typical in present motion picture fields. 

Section Four: 

We seek to extend certain principles which have evolved over the past 
forty years by the work and thought of such men as Marcel Duchamp 
and Piet Mondrian. 

During this time, in painting, spatial limitations of the particular, 
human, real world have generally given way to a concern with a concep- 
tual simultaneity of space-time. Mondrian sought “a truer vision of real- 
ity” by destroying the particular of representation, thus liberating space 
and form in terms of equilibrium.* By a mechanical destruction of the 
particular we believe it possible to approach anew this problem. We seek 
a new equilibrium - an equilibrium on a temporal frame as in music. 

And we seek a balance of contrasting plastic movements. 

Obviously Western Art forms have been no less determined and lim- 
ited by their accepted creative means than our work is limited and its 
character is determined by our mechanical means. Our very realm of 
creative action is implicit in the machine. Emphasis is necessarily upon a 
more objective approach to creative activity. More universal. Less par- 
ticular. More so by virtue of the inherent impersonal attribute of the 
machine. We discern a creative advantage here similar to that deliber- 
ately sought after by both Mondrian and Duchamp, however opposed 
their respective points of view; Duchamp, an anti-artist, and Mondrian, 
seeking a purity of plastic means. 

But the machine is yet a poorly integrated, clumsily handled inven- 
tion else man would not be face to face with his destiny by it today. 
Personal contact with new creative fields by way of the machine would 
hardly be worth struggling after were it not for the tremendous variety of 

* Plastic Art and Pure Plastic Art , New York, 1945. 

new clay to be found there, its universality and its close kinship with 
modern experience. 

Our animating and sound producing devices do not respond to our 
touch as a musical instrument responds to the virtuoso. Aside from our 
own admitted inexperience there are clear-cut historical reasons for this. 
The devices of art and music which have made Western Art forms pos- 
sible, originated in antiquity and have evolved slowly paralleling the life 
of that culture. The introduction of the machine in such proportions as 
has taken place only in this century constitutes a quantitative change 
effecting a distinct qualitative revolution. The motion picture camera is 
no more an improved paint brush than our sound track device is an 
improved musical instrument. 

It is our opinion that the work and ideas of Marcel Duchamp with 
his underlying principles, against hand painting, and, a studied exploita- 
tion of the mechanisms of chance, make a significant esthetic contribu- 
tion to the advancement of this “qualitative revolution.” Perhaps his 
concept of irony provides a clue to the whole future of machine realized 
art. He defines his meaning of irony as ”... a playful way of accepting 
something. Mine is the irony of indifference. It is a meta-irony.”* Our 
own experience has been that this corresponds very closely to the correct 
philosophical disposition by which the resources of the machine may be 
accepted and employed. 

Notes on the 6 6 Five Abstract Film Exercises” 

by John and James Whitney 

First Sound Film, Completed Fall 1943: 

Begins with a three-beat announcement, drawn out in time, which there- 
after serves as an imageless transition figure dividing the sections of 
the film. Each new return of this figure is condensed more and more in 
time. Finally it is used in reverse to conclude the film. There are four 
sections constructed from the same three thematic ideas. They depend 

* Quoted in Harriet and Sidney Janis. “Marcel Duchamp: Anti-Artist," View, Series 5, 
#1 (March. 1945). p. 23. 

148 Appendix 

upon subtle alterations of color and juxtaposition of these three distinct 
themes for contrast. 

This film was produced entirely by manipulation of paper cutouts 
and shot at regular motion picture camera speed instead of hand-animating 
one frame at a time. The entire film, two hundred feet in length, was 
constructed from an economical twelve feet of original image material. 

Fragments, Spring 1944: These two very short fragments were also 
made from paper cutouts. At this time we were developing a means of 
controlling this procedure with the use of pantographs. While we were 
satisfied with the correlation of sound and image, progress with the 
material had begun to lag far behind our ideas. These two were left 
unfinished in order to begin the films which follow. 

Fourth Film, Completed Spring 1944: Entire film divided into four 
consecutive chosen approaches, the fourth being a section partially 
devoted to a reiteration and extension of the material of the first and 
second sections. 

Section One: Movement used primarily to achieve spatial depth. An 
attempt is made to delay sound in a proportional relationship to the depth 
or distance of its corresponding image in the screen space, that is, a 
near image is heard sooner than one in the distance. Having determined 
the distant and near extremes of the visual image, this screen space is 
assigned a tonal interval. The sound then moves along a melodic line in 
continuous glissando back and forth, slowing down as it approaches 
its point of alteration in direction. The line would resemble slightly a 
diminishing spiral as viewed on a flat plane from the side. This section 
concludes with a frontal assault of all imagery with an interacting 
tonal accent. 

Section Two: Consists of four short subjects in natural sequence. They 
are treated to a development in terms alternately of contraction and 
expansion or halving and doubling of their rhythm. Sound and visual 
elements are held in strict synchronization. Color is directed through a 
blue to green dynamic organization. 

Section Three: A 15-second visual sequence is begun every five seconds, 
after the fashion of canon form in music. This constitutes the leading 


idea, a development of which is extended into three different repetitions. 
This section is built upon the establishment of complex tonal masses 
which oppose complex image masses. The durations of each are progres- 
sively shortened. The image masses are progressively simplified and their 
spatial movement increasingly rapid. 

Section Four: Begins with a statement in sound and image which at its 
conclusion is inverted and retrogresses to its beginning. An enlarged 
repetition of this leads to the reiterative conclusion of the film. 

Fifth Film, Completed Spring 1944: Opens with a short canonical 
statement of a theme upon which the entire film is constructed. Followed 
by a rhythmical treatment of the beginning and ending images of this 
theme in alternation. This passage progresses by a quickening of rhythm, 
increasing in complexity and color fluctuation. After a complete repeat 
of this, there follows a deliberate use of the original theme in a canon 
form, slow and with sound counterpart also in canon. The sound thereafter 
is entirely constructed upon the material derived from this section. The 
canon is repeated in contrasting variation by means of color and leads 
into a further development of the early rhythmical ideas on beginning 
and ending images. 

A second section begins after a brief pause. Here an attempt is made 
to pose the same image theme of the first section in deep film screen 
space. As the ending image recedes after an accented frontal flash onto 
the screen it unfolds itself repeatedly, leaving the receding image to con- 
tinue on smaller and smaller. The entire section consists of variations on 
this idea and further development of the rhythmical ending image ideas 
which recur in the first section. 

(From technical notes, written in 1947, which were also published in Art 
in Cinema , 1947.) 

150 Appendix 


Moving Pictures and 

Electronic Music 1959 

This article was written in 1959 for Karlheinz Stockhausen and Herbert Eimert's serial music jour- 
nal die Reihe, where it was published in Vienna in a German translation. Five years later, an English 
edition of that issue appeared in the U.S. with this article retranslated from the German text back 
into English. Needless to say, some humorous and embarrassing passages resulted. The text printed 
here is John Whitney's original English version, not a translation. It provides the fullest description 
of the pioneer pendulum “electronic" music which the Whitney brothers were creating before 
magnetic tape made possible what we know as electronic music today. - W. M. 

The year 1940 marks the beginning of this short history. It might be 
called a piece of Western frontier history for there are signs of a frontier 
in it - in one sense - and there is a note of isolation. 

Stimulated by the avant-garde filmmakers of France and Germany of 
the early twenties, I began alone and was soon joined by my brother 
James, making what were then called abstract films. My point of view 
was that of a composer; my brother was a painter. I had been casually 
introduced to the Schoenberg twelve-tone principals by friends in Paris a 
year earlier. Other than this brief exposure to a modem trend of music 
composition, we had Ernst Krenek’s pamphlet, Studies in Counterpart , 
plus recorded music to listen to, including Pierrot Lunaire; the pieces for 
piano Opus 19 and the Opus 37 String Quartet of Arnold Schoenberg; 
also Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite and violin concerto. It may be said that we 
were more broadly acquainted with the temper and spirit of modern art, 
including the Bauhaus in Germany. 

As unprecedented comparatively as our art was, the tools were also 
new or actually awaiting invention. We looked upon toolmaking as a nat- 
ural aspect of our creative occupation. We treated this facet of endeavor 


with respect, designing with care even the appearance of an instrument, 
for example. We accepted, of course, the probability that formal con- 
siderations would somehow evolve as a result of an interactive play 
between ourselves and the character of these tools. And to bear this out, 
it will be seen that certain formal ideas did come directly from the sub- 
sonic approach that we found for producing the sound of our films. 

Our subsonic sound instrument consisted of a series of pendulums 
linked mechanically to an optical wedge. The function of the optical 
wedge was the same as that of the typical light valve of standard optical 
motion picture sound recorders. No audible sound was generated by the 
instrument. Instead, an optical sound track of standard dimensions was 
synthetically exposed onto film which after processing could be played 
back with a standard motion picture projector. 

The pendulum, whose natural sinusoidal oscillation is fixed by the 
location and size of its weight, constituted our limited source of tone 
generation. Though the frequency range of our set of pendulums ex- 
tended only somewhat over four octaves, from a base frequency of one 
second, the extremely slow drive mechanism which passed the raw film 
over the light slit at the recording optics was also variable over a range 
of several octaves. By changing the drive speed the pendulums as a 
group could be shifted up or down the frequency spectrum. 

The pendulums were individually tunable. We soon found that we 
could watch the comparatively slow swing of these pendulums and 
adjust their weights to any of the common interval relationships. For 
example, it was easy to count two strokes of one pendulum and adjust 
another to make exactly three strokes in the same period; both pendulums 
swinging past a nodal point in unison every 2nd and 3rd oscillation 
respectively. This tuning would sound the interval of the 5th. Due to the 
design of the mechanical linkage any number of pendulums could be 
played simultaneously. The linkage in effect “mixes” sinusoidal oscilla- 
tions without undue distortion. 

Composing for an instrument with the thinness of tone spectra as 
ours had determined a need to exploit our resources with ingenuity and 
to their fullest. There were other reasons, of course, but this sense 
of a need for extreme economy motivated avoiding any tuning of the 
pendulum set to a “scale” that would not be used in its entirety. 

152 Appendix 

As a formal point, then, we chose to tune the instrument to a serial 
row that would be different with each composition. This serial row might 
be played out sequentially depending upon horizontal considerations 
of the music structure. Also, all or any part of the row could be played 
simultaneously. This way a vertical note mixture (not a chord) would be 
produced, the timbre or components of which could be continuously 
varied by bringing in and out different groupings of frequencies. The 
attack and decay of the tones of the instrument could be controlled by 
literally starting and stopping the pendulums either abruptly or slowly. 
Vertical or horizontal aspects of a composition were thus structurally 
interrelated in a peculiarly meaningful way. 

Furthermore, since the drive speed was so slow (sometimes as slow 
as one motion picture frame in sixty seconds) it was possible to start and 
stop a sequence of perhaps 20 pendulums within one frame; that is, 
within one twenty-fourth part of a second at playback speed. It was even 
possible to play a small pendulum or to correlate in different ways vari- 
ous (literally counted by eye) numerical orderings of cycles. We soon 
observed that microclusters of transient tone sequences produced this 
way presented very rewarding compositional possibilities. These tight 
clusters produced distinctive timbres; yet if the elements of the groups 
were progressively lengthened in duration they became audible as 
discrete note sequences of rhythmic order. We found that here was 
established a continuum from rhythm to pitch. Our instrument could 
encompass the range. It became a structural foundation of our music 

There is one other aspect of the sound techniques that deserves men- 
tion before proceeding to a discussion of image and space concepts. At 
an early point in our filmmaking a method was devised to record four 
channels of sound. This was done primarily to facilitate recordings of 
structures of a degree of complexity otherwise physically impossible to 
perform even at the extremely slow recording rate we employed. Sec- 
ond, third, and fourth records were exposed on the sound track at differ- 
ent recording speeds according to our notational system. 

In this way it became possible to conceive still another facet of the inter- 
relationship of time and pitch. The act of performing on this instrument 
- essentially starting and stopping the pendulums and controlling 


their amplitude - could be governed by the instrument time (i.e., frame 
speed) or by the constant clock time. Assuming a given clock-time 
interval, then pitch and duration became a function of the drive speed of 
the machine, i.e., the recording rate. Thus pitch ratios and time ratios 
were drawn still closer together and became more accessible as compo- 
sitional elements. (Indeed the continuum of pitch, timbre, and rhythm 
relationships of this machine was unprecedented in Western musical re- 
sources and anticipates the application of computer technology to musi- 
cal composition. Our Five Abstract Film Exercises were made under 
these auspices - note added in 1973 by John Whitney.) 

Our activities were not alone musical since our first interest had been 
to compose abstract graphic compositions with a time structure as in 
music. Before the above musical researches were begun, we had made 
several silent abstract films. 

The earliest film to be completed consisted of 24 variations upon a 
graphic matrix. This matrix was given action potential by an extremely 
simple animation idea. The illustration (fig. 1) shows a diagram of the 
complex matrix which was actually never revealed on film in this static 

Figure 1 

configuration. This matrix was broken down as shown in fig. 2 and pro- 
duced with an air brush. The forms of the matrix served as a simple 


154 Appendix 

positive and negative stencil as shown in fig. 3. The resulting animation 
cards with phases and movement were then photographed in sequence 
onto black-and-white film. 

This film strip was in fact one of perhaps many possible serial per- 
mutations from the original total static matrix. We devised an optical 
printer in which this film strip could be rephotographed onto color film 
using color filters; either in normal direction or retrogression, right side 
up or inverted, or mirrored. Graphically here was a parallel to the trans- 
positions and inversions and retrogressions of the twelve-tone technique 
Seeing this short film back from the laboratory for the first time, my 
brother and I experienced the most gratifying stimulation of our entire 
filmmaking activities. Within its extreme limitations, here was a gener- 
ous confirmation of our compositional principles; the permutability of 
the simple graphic material permitted a great variety of compositional 
structure. We were soon engaged in elaborations upon the matrix ideas 
which presupposed some form of serial permutation to be juxtaposed 
dynamically against itself by retrogression, inversion, and mirroring. 

The following years were a time of continuous discovery of steps 
toward a more fundamental graphic element. The static matrix ideas 
were modified then supplanted by other discoveries. 



ASID Talk and 

Belgian Competition 1963 

This talk delivered at the Catalina Design Conference in 1962 affirms the position that “motion 
graphics" is a complex new field which can only be exploited properly through the sensitive use of 
technological instruments - a stand against the intuitive handmade films of the music-illustration 
animators, and a stand in favor of the “gageteers" which these animators (especially Fischinger) 
had spoken out against, feeling that machinery would hamper artistic instincts or substitute mechan- 
ical regularity for nuance and mystery. 

In his assessment of the 1963 Knokke competition (originally published in the same issue of 
Film Culture ), Whitney announces clearly the complementary principle which will govern the aes- 
thetics of his later work: the essence of the time/movement/development factor in motion graphics 
must be consistent “permutations" of the basic material, not just a random collection of diverse 
effects strung together to musical accompaniment. - W. M. 

A.S.I.D. Talk-Design Conference, Catalina, 1962 

When a film title in the tradition that Saul Bass has done so much to 
establish, has interesting articulation, it usually succeeds as a title. On 
the other hand, if it is lacking effective motion or articulation it might as 
well have been a book jacket, at best, perhaps like those that Alvin 
Lustig made. This matter of articulation is what I refer to as Motion 
Graphics and it is distinctly a new problem in the field of design; so 
little explored in fact that designers must approach it with caution and 
the proper sense of adventure. Film titles have been sold to clients; sold, 
approved and paid for, that must have looked superb in the storyboard 
layouts. But the storyboard would be at best a series of static drawings 
ostensibly to suggest or imply the motion that was conceived. If in 
production, this action is not realized, or was unimaginative to begin 
with, very, very impressive storyboards from the point of view of still 
graphic design may still be still graphic design when they reach the 
screen - we say the work is not dynamic. It may be good graphics - it is 
not good Motion Graphics. 

156 Appendix 

Now how does one delineate motion graphics? Abstract filmmakers 
have been pondering this question - stabbing at it in the dark of projec- 
tion rooms since the early twenties. Man Ray achieved a brief triumph in 
this direction forty years ago. He simply stood starched white collars on 
end on a phonograph turntable (a trick in itself) and filmed the turning 
spiraling white shapes against a black background. The camera and film 
was simply given to him. Man Ray showed this film to slightly delirious 
gatherings of dadaist sports while a phonograph in the theatre played the 
“Skater’s Waltz.” Truly this was a triumphant moment of motion 
graphics, predating sound motion pictures. 

About every abstract filmmaker since, who has had his own modest 
success, has come by it with almost as much fortuitousness. That is 
putting it rather crudely; but it is so that some have achieved high 
moments on film by swirling a mixture of incompatible paints in a bar- 
rel, or scratching, biting, crayoning and otherwise torturing raw motion 
picture film without using a camera at all. Others have hung other 
people’s sculpture on invisible strings and let them turn in front of a 
camera, still others have filled space with wads of colored plastic and 
such and set spotlights moving and filmed the reflections and refractions 
moving on the wall. 

I have listed this hodgepodge of techniques to emphasize that if you 
want to compose an abstract film you just can’t pick up any thread of 
tradition winding back into the past. And you can’t walk into a store and 
buy an instrument that plays abstract design. A camera is of no use in 
this respect; more than a phonograph would be of use to a composer. 
Abstract filmmaking then (the pure art of motion graphics as opposed to 
film titles, which is an application of art) is a new art which demands 
complex tools. 

Now to digress a moment: Before the war, I contracted what at that 
time was a common fever to make film “Symphonies.” Joris Ivens and 
others made these films, and always called them “Symphonies,” (just 
why - I couldn’t say since they were always such little films - hardly a 
movement of a Symphony). I found that if you go out with a motion 
picture camera and shoot nature, you’ll be surprised how little real 
action you can get. Especially if you know as anyone should that Slavko 
Vorkapich had already shot all the ocean and clouds that need shooting 


for all time - ever! And Ivens had already shot too many rain drops and 
riverlets. “What else on Earth moves?” you ask yourself. Nature, all in 
all presents a surprisingly static image to the cameraman who wants to 
make “Symphonies,” abstract ones, that is, where animals and humans 
don’t fit. 

I have brought this up only to make the following ironic observations 
that our concepts of nature and the universe have become dynamic. 

We know in this Non-Aristotelian age (to borrow a phrase) that time and 
motion or, time/motion make the scene today. 

Now I might quote here from Gyorgy Kepes’s The New Landscape or 
other books of art philosophy. Instead, I need only go to the grocery 
store and pick up a copy of Harper’s and read to you what Sir Kenneth 
Clark of the London National Gallery has to say.* “Art and science are 
not, as used to be supposed, two contrary activities, but draw on many of 
the same capacities of the human mind. . . . Artist and scientist alike are 
trying to give concrete form to dimly apprehended ideas.” Sir Kenneth 
quotes Dr. Bronowski as saying “All science is the search for unity 
in hidden likeness, and the starting point is an image because then the 
unity is before our mind’s eye.” He gives us the example of Copernicus’s 
notion of the solar system which was inspired by the old astrological 
image of man with the signs of the zodiac distributed about his body. 
Then Sir Kenneth continues: “Our Scientists are no longer as anthropo- 
morphic as that; but they still depend on humanly comprehensible 
images, and the valid symbols of our time, invented to embody some 
scientific truth, have taken root in the popular imagination.” Here in a 
nutshell is background for abstract art. But notice that here we can also 
perceive the timely validity of the abstract image in motion. The nuclear 
scientist will agree readily that he is concerned with dimly apprehended 
ideas of forces and energies and particles in motion. His artist contem- 
porary should (and does not) have any great facility to create image in 
motion. To repeat: our concepts of the universe have become overwhelm- 
ingly dynamic. The valid symbols of our time possess this dynamism 
implicit in them, and I am concerned with motion graphics because I feel 
the need for explicit motion in graphics as against the implicit motion 

*“Art and Society." Harper s, v. 233 (August, 1961) p. 81. 

158 Appendix 

of the painter’s canvas. 

The search for a viable system of motion graphics has ranged far and 
wide among abstract filmmakers. Here and there we have had it on our 
conscience that we had become too much involved in mere technology. 

It has been a sensitive point with some to hear a challenge, that goes like 
this: “If you are so damned interested in this kind of film why don’t you 
make films, instead of messing around with all the gadgetry.’’ For better 
or worse, I have resolved this question in my own mind. I decided last 
year to engage in the construction of bigger and more elaborate gadgets. 

My point of departure would seem to be at the crossroads where 
computer designers abandoned mechanics altogether and introduced 
electronics. This turn in itself was fortuitous, since it made obsolete a 
$33,000 device which was then placed in surplus which I can now buy 
for less than $200. I am told it is one of the more sophisticated mechan- 
ical analogue computers of specialized function that were produced 
during the last war. It happens to be an “Anti-Aircraft Gun Director.’’ 

It contains a beautiful network of cams that are variable and made an 
exceedingly versatile two dimensional coordinate design instrument - 
with a few alterations. I have not studied the history of cam linkage 
deeply, yet it is interesting to observe again and again all the way back 
through the 18th Century that cams have been assembled variously to 
trace intriguing designs on paper. Yet through all this time no one seems 
to have found much use for these designs other than to decorate gilt 
edge bonds and currency. It seems to be characteristic of this time, how- 
ever, that innumerable so-called blind alleys submerged by industrial- 
ization revolutions are eventually rediscovered. I think of Art Nouveau 
glass or Thonet bentwood furniture. 

Who knows — perhaps the abandoned cam may have something new 
to offer as a rediscovery. My experience would seem to bear this out. 

I presently earn a living using these devices in films and also in archi- 
tectural decorations. This may account somewhat for my rash decision 
to build more versatile cam machines. 

At any rate, I am trying to erect a total motion graphic system. If I 
were a composer like Arnold Schoenberg, at least I might arrive at a 
system without having to invent the symphony orchestra in order to hear 
my system applied. Yet that advantage already has been lost to many 


modern composers. Karlheinz Stockhausen must penetrate deeply into 
the field of technical invention if he persists with electronic music. So I 
am not alone when I find that if I must make a system, I must also simul- 
taneously invent machines. 

Now let me try to explain some of the philosophy of a “gadgeteer” 
and I will be through: 

In the first place we need only look at the twelve-tone scale of the 
alphabet to realize what versatility is possible from a permutational sys- 
tem. So I am looking for a permutational system of graphics. The first of 
the little silent films shown here tonight is an example of rudimentary, 
permutational graphics. The entire film was made from one rectangle 
and one circle in one position in the film frame. All other positions of 
the circle and rectangle are achieved by inversion and mirroring the film 
strip from the original positions. The action too is a serial configuration 
that undergoes permutation by reverse direction, skip printing etc. 

But this little film suffers from limitations which suggests that as a 
system of composing it could be soon exhausted of fresh possibilities 
and thus die. So the second requirement for a system of graphics might 
state that it must be viable. Somehow the ideal system must offer resis- 
tance so that with every new approach the composer finds before him 
a challenge. 

For example, risking oversimplication of history, it may be said 
that after a few hundred years during which Western musical culture 
evolved, this challenge in music composition has come to resemble 
nothing so much as a tidy problem in mathematics. Rules have accumu- 
lated in profusion and the challenge is there as any first year harmony 
student will agree. 

Finally, I am looking for a graphic system that will produce simplic- 
ity and complexity at one and the same time. This would be hard to 
explain in terms of graphics. Another meaning of the word “articulate” 
refers to speech; to enunciate distinctly Speech poorly articulated is 
garbled speech. The communication specialists refer to all elements in 
a message that do not contribute to the message as noise. Now for the 
purely sensuous appeal of texture and pattern there is need for complex- 
ity in motion graphics. But simultaneously there is need for simplicity 
for the sake of articulation and communication. Still there must be no 

160 Appendix 

noise in the system. 

Now what constitutes noise if the message happens to be a music 
composition? Of course, it might be a jet passing overhead or hum in the 
amplifier. But it could be clumsy orchestration in which the clarity of the 
musical ideas have been simply spoiled with unnecessary doubling of 
voices and generally inept composing. This too is noise, I think, by the 
communications definition. 

Inept and unnecessary embellishment also spoil the message in 
graphic art, obviously. Yet judicious use of texture and pattern can be an 
aid to the message. In motion graphics the problem is compounded by 
the fact that all texture if it is static, looks static. There is a disparity 
between action and any static element in the frame that always seems 
irreconcilable and therefore contributes only noise. The problem of tex- 
ture, familiar to the animator, is only magnified here. Thus for the sake 
of unity and clarity of the message, action in terms of the total frame 
must be considered. So, the third feature of my system seeks to involve 
the whole frame in a species of multiplex action that still must be simple 
and unified in its total effect. 

Now a word about the film that is to follow. It is a catalog of some 
effects I have begun to explore with my latest equipment. I wish only to 
say that it consists of film which I am making by the yard these days. 
One piece is spliced to the next without any deep logic of sequence. 

I would not want to imply that any of these lofty ideals of which I 
have been speaking are realized in this film; or are even near realization. 

An Abstract Filmmaker’s View of the Belgium Experimental Film 
Competition (1963) and All 

Film competitions of this sort are notoriously tiresome affairs. Some 
filmmakers are downright cruel - if the well-being of their audience is a 
matter of concern to them in the least. So experienced competition-goers 
learn to walk out early. I observed that they develop a precise sensitivity 
to each film’s tedium quotient and they often leave in sizeable numbers a 
few seconds after the titles. They even behave this badly when the 
abstract films come on. Indeed, at Knokke the film which may have won 
the loudest objections from the smallest audience was an abstract film. 
This general category did not however receive in total the most numer- 


ous demonstrations of audience distaste. Perhaps that is only because 
there were so very few abstract films in competition. 

I had gone all the way to Belgium to get some perspective on the 
world state of abstract filmmaking. Now the big question seemed to be: 
does the species really exist at all in the contemporary world of cinema? 
For the few films which sensibly fit into that area by definition certainly 
presented nothing that was not more imaginatively realized in 1958 or 
even in 1949. Were I not somewhat prepared for this and predisposed to 
regard any evidence of decline quite differently than one might ex- 
pect, I’d have been truly discouraged. More about that optimistic 
disposition later. 

There is something illogical about the pattern of growth (or decline) 
one sees if for example he merely reviews in sequence the entries and 
prize winners of the three Belgium Experimental Film Competitions. 

The 1949 prize winners were predominantly abstract films and I believe 
the view was rather widespread then that the winning films were as much 
a foretaste of the future as they were themselves any great achievement 
of film art. There was a hint by 1958 that this future was not materializing. 

If we compare the atmosphere of the 1949 competition in Belgium 
with another time and place, namely the Cologne 1951 festival of experi- 
mental electronic music, similarities as to the promise of the future are 
obvious. But here the comparison ends. For electronic music activities 
have since proliferated with endowed, even state sponsored centers 
of study spread over the world from Japan to South America, and 
already new composers and their work are engaging world wide atten- 
tion. Nothing to compare with this busy state of affairs has dignified 
abstract filmmaking. 

Yet the idea of this kind of film art, I must insist, was as broadly 
accepted as the idea of a new music. Certainly many who were initially 
challenged by the above idea of motion graphics have long since aban- 
doned it to indifference or commercial live-action film. Some others 
simply did not buy motion graphics in the first place, and they can prac- 
tically sing in chorus today, “I told you so!” But these cynical, pessimis- 
tic taunters are few in number compared to the other faction - those who 
did not make motion graphic films themselves and those who generally 
accepted motion graphics as a valid, promising concept. 

162 Appendix 

As a semi-professional actually trading upon this same beleaguered 
idea, 1 was obliged at Knokke to try my best to serve as professional 
apologist to explain first, that all is not lost, and next, to attempt to ex- 
press a broader viewpoint on this whole subject. 

Look back for a moment as I did. Len Lye, McLaren and Fischinger 
are perhaps the great innovators and they can each show you films that 
represent at least second, possibly third generations beyond their original 
inventions in film. A few other filmmakers can show singular successes 
which constitute their only sortie into the rarified air of abstract cinema. 
Not one individual can be named who has made a successful career for 
himself strictly within this specialized field. 

It would be difficult to explain why each filmmaker’s effort in a 
given technique seems almost to exhaust that technique on his first or 
second try. But this characterizes abstract filmmaking from its begin- 
nings to the present day. Then also, about every filmmaker since Man 
Ray who has had his own modest success, has come by it with a degree 
of fortuitousness that is in itself quite disconcerting. Composers today 
are busy exploring all avenues of chance in music composition, but this 
is no strain and far less disconcerting for the inheritors of a tradition that 
is rather overblown with intellectualism and excessive mathematical 
orderings. On the other hand it must be slightly unnerving for the film- 
maker to discover in a moment of truth that his best audio-visual inter- 
relationships have been mostly fortuitous, his most striking graphics, 
purely accidental. 

The employment of cinemascope plus color in one or two abstract 
films in the Belgium competition was effective in generating a lush sen- 
suous experience for the eye. One might wish however that something 
more satisfying could come from all that rich color imagery. It was as if 
each square yard of that huge screen in front of us contained delightful 
graphics in motion but all of it was operating at cross pusposes. Or it 
was as if we had before us an orchestra on the stage consisting of expert 
musicians playing superb musical instruments but that each musician 
was determined to negate any purpose of the other. A situation again 
which might be of interest to the composer for reasons that transcend 
any mere protest reaction against the well-known ensemble achievements 
of the modem orchestra. It would be an auditory situation approximating 


the useful musicological concept of white noise: the full auditory range 
sounding at once. Of course this is only an approximation because the 
true visual representation of white sound would simply be a white screen. 
But the parallel between a stage full of musicians playing at cross pur- 
poses and a screen covered with action and texture and rich color is 
rather painfully exact. In both cases one soon longs to see (or hear) 
something more in terms of form register by way of all this rich sonority 
- audio or visual. 

These doleful reflections did not add any to my contentment with the 
few abstract films I saw in Belgium at the close of 1963. Nor do they 
now help me in the task I have undertaken with this writing. 

So what is astir to be hopeful about? What argument shall one take 
as apologist? 

For one thing, isn’t it cozy to have reached bottom from which 
famous position there is no other direction but up? I have observed also 
that filmmakers do not as a group show any serious tendency to repeat 
themselves or anybody else. (Is this a concomitant of the forementioned 
tendency to exhaust each new technique after one or two trials?) Or 
perhaps the past can be viewed as a kind of catharsis; premature to 
be sure, for such a young thing, but nevertheless much needed to clear 
the way for: - who knows? 

Here I cannot help but add a digression as much as anything to 
express my concern with all areas of filmmaking such as we viewed at 
Knokke. Perhaps the above “expiatory” viewpoint can be applied point- 
edly to the “new American cinema.” Now that such films have been 
made once, maybe no one need make another Flaming Creatures or 
“Twice a Dog Star Man Triangular.” O.K.; we are purged. And hope- 
fully the only way onward is now, somehow, in a new direction. 

But these are only negative comments and above all I wish to say 
something very positive as to how one may regard matters as they are. 

Concurrent with the Experimental Film Competition was a gallery 
show of the work of the Group de Recherche d’Art Visuel. The classical 
distinctions between painting and sculpture were repeatedly breached in 
this show. But of more interest to the filmmaker, were the distinctions 
between motion in these works and cinema. Many of their three dimen- 
sional productions included integrated light projection systems. With 
these they have literally created cinema in an art gallery. Judging the 
general reaction to this show I came away with the distinct impression 

164 Appendix 

that disciplined exploration of the simplest graphic elements in this 
modem time is still treated as a kind of exotic new frontier. One only 
needed to remember that the entire history of western musical culture is 
based upon the simplest principles of permutation to start a chain of 
reflections as to why only now at the late time we have begun seriously 
to experiment with the possibilities of motion and permutation within 
the disciplines of the graphic arts. But the point is, they are begun. And 
with this particular group the point of departure is far, far beyond the 
previous researches of the Bauhaus and the neo-plasticians. 

Also there were concerts of contemporary music and symposia in 
which the immediate practicality of the use of the computer for generat- 
ing music were discussed. The nonsense bugaboo about the “mechanis- 
tic inhumanity” of the “thinking machine” was dispatched readily and 
serious discussion that followed appraised favorably the imminence 
of applications of computer technology as a new instrumentation at the 
service of the composer. Then in Paris and New York I saw more, 
pointing to new avenues opening between artist and this fantastic new 

It all relates, and adds up to a view of a world that is rapidly moving 
toward the obsolescence of practically the whole technology of motion 
picture making, for motion graphics especially. So the abstract film- 
maker is destined to become indeed a colossal figmentary anachronism. 
Of course he too has existed only to be purged. His visual achievements, 
small as they are, may not be forgotten. But his aspiration will one day 
soon, it is to be hoped, come to fruition by means of a marvelously more 
facile instrumentation linked to the computer and cathode image systems. 

Personally, I am optimistically committed to this point of view. I have 
employed rather elaborate automated design mechanisms which are 
derived from a recent phase in the growth of computer technology. Just 
as computer techniques are evolving along a somewhat logical pattern 
toward greater refinement, it is my assumption that new graphic as well 
as musical possibilities should likewise evolve. At present my equipment 
is supplemental to the motion picture camera which now serves only the 
recording or memory function. But all my research effort is oriented in 
anticipation of a fuller employment of modem computer systems dis- 
pensing with the camera altogether. 

Future computer systems will certainly transform graphic and musi- 
cal instrumentations in ways that are still unimaginable. But among the 

ends in view is the capacity to modulate complex design fields in time, 
much as musical chords smoothly succeed one another. That this has not 
been possible by any trick of camera or animation art will serve to 
suggest the plight of abstract cinema till now. Thus it is precisely the 
anachronistic quality of the story of abstract film making that should 
illustrate best the need as well as the inevitability of future creative 
applications of computer technology. Stated bluntly, the abstract cinema 
(so-called) awaits the computer to be born. 

I have always been disposed to view abstract filmmaking as the 
truly unique time art of the dawning age of complex instrumentation 
which so threatens and at the same time promises to revolutionize global 
social and cultural patterns. This point of view was clarified a little at 
the film competition. It takes a hectic and wonderful week in a little 
known Belgian seacoast resort, looking at quite an assortment of failures, 
to get a bright idea of what new is going on. 

166 Appendix 


Aspen Design Conference 1967 

The 17th International Aspen Design Conference was devoted to the theme “Order and Disorder." 
John Whitney's comments on this topic give him the chance to discuss the issue of the Random v.v. 
the Structured, and how pioneers in the new fields of electronic music and electronic imagery must 
deal with them vis a vis the absence of tradition and the presence of “unlimited" possibilities. - W. M. 

Let’s consider the use of chance in music composition. Computers can 
be used as random number generators, but when you pin somebody 
down about this, you find they are not random at all; computers generate 
random numbers by some system or another. Get a mathematician to 
level with you and randomness begins to look like a theoretical concept 
without practical reality. So random and order, chance and disorder be- 
come linguistic exercises that fit differently into different disciplines like 
one man’s poison. 

Looking backward into music history, the part chance played seemed 
to hinge on such matters as: “Does the bassoonist have a cold or not?’’ 
Today we are looking at a rather alarming discontinuity in that history. 
For awhile it looked as if the magnetic tape medium was the cause 
of all this discontinuity, but now we know it is really the whole thrust of 
electric technology, including the computer. 

We probably face a vastly altered musical culture of the future. We 
seem to be losing traditional concepts left and right, and there is a busy 
underground determined to smash any effort to hang onto any vestige of 
past traditions. In the face of this, many of the concert public choose to 
stay home or else they patronize the traditional concert hall. But my 
concern here is with the new composer himself. His predecessors en- 
joyed a tradition more readily communicated from generation to genera- 
tion than any of the other arts. The teaching of music composition was 


as thorough as that of mathematics. Now, I think you must agree, there is 
that avant-garde, only slightly underground, for whom this whole picture 
is quite changed. Without training, spending more time with electronic 
devices than with the piano, this composer must be his own teacher. He 
must make his own way and hopefully make his own traditions. I will 
argue that the magnitude of the transformation of new musical resources 
is such that we may perceive a quantum break with traditions more 
disrupting than anything that has happened in the arts so far. 

I experience an especial empathy with these new composers, also a 
personal insight into their disposition, for my work with abstract film has 
been out in a limbo, too, where traditions simply are nonexistent. I am 
sure we both are dealing with some kind of mixed media we will share 
in common somewhere in the future. 

It is now known that computer graphic systems are useful in the 
creation of a considerable diversity of abstract graphic form. It can be 
shown that the precision and detail of the graphics and the power of the 
computer to repeat thousands of images, each one with the most subtle 
incremental variation, makes for an instrument with superb visual 
motion generating capability. 

This power of the computer to produce endless variations upon pat- 
tern, which stems from the basically mathematical foundation by which 
all images are formed, means that we have at hand an instrument for 
graphics that is analogous to the variational power of all musical instru- 
ments and the mathematical foundations of all musical form. Thus, 
computer graphic systems present an opportunity to realize an art of 
graphics in motion with potentials as unknown to us, perhaps, as was the 
far side of the moon. 

The form of such art is unpredictable. While the forms and traditions 
of music and the dance may impinge in some way upon a computer art 
of motion graphics, this relationship in no way can be made explicit. The 
new art calls for a new artist and he cannot be called forth. He must 
literally find himself through the success of his own work with computer 
graphic systems. 

Incidentally, it is not even conclusive that present-day hardware is 
adequate to support rapid evolution of new forms. While it is likely that 
musical composition with computers will progress coincidentally, it 

168 Appendix 

may take a generation or two of technological refinement before we may 
see significant accomplishments. To date, practically no effort has been 
addressed to the design of hardware specifically for the arts of graphics 
or music. 

But there is too much activity among contemporary artists with 
pure light and optical phenomena, and kinetics and light shows and 
multimedia experiments, to remain doubtful about the evolution of 
comprehensive new art forms with the computer as the classic instrument. 

If anyone is repelled at the prospect of the machines taking over in 
the situation I have so joyfully tried to describe, notice, if you will, I am 
speaking to you from the humanities department, not from a basement 
in the science wing. I am speaking of new forms of art of human propor- 
tion on a human scale. Your general approval - your acceptance - is 
somehow necessary to me. I am interested in an art of design and color, 
and a new music. I know, for example, that thanks to new technologies, 
the possibilities for the experience of color in some formal context are 
greater than they have ever been in the past. That the computer is a new 
instrument in this business is no more insidious (I find it less frightful) 
than if it were the piano. 

In fact, it has seemed to me the threat of the encroachment of 
technology, which the computer may symbolize to some, exists only to 
the extent that the humanities have failed to keep pace. There is much 
more to our problems than that, certainly. But far from repulsion, we 
cannot embrace rapidly enough the new culture that includes all electric 
technology within its integrity. Of course there should be, and there will 
be soon, I suppose, centers devoted to computer arts. And it will be a 
less apprehensive state of affairs when partisans for the arts and humani- 
ties express the same composure toward this computer world as is now 
commonplace in the scientific community. 



John Whitney at Cal Tech 1968 

These excerpts from a lecture at California Institute of Technology, March, 1968, are focused some- 
what toward the scientific community, attempting to draw the scientist into a vigorous rapport with 
the art and technology issue. This appeal for scientists involved in art recalls the quotations from Sir 
Kenneth Clark and Dr. Jacob Bronowski in the A.S.I.D. talk reprinted above. - W. M. 

As moments of history go, it is well-known that the end of a major war 
summons the end of private nightmares and the dawn of a long awaited 
new day. So it was for my brother and myself in the mid-forties, except 
that our released visions lurched ahead clumsily some twenty years into 
the future. The era we supposed was dawning, arrived in fact only now, 
more than two decades later. 

I swear it is true that as I walked a chilly street in downtown Los 
Angeles winter, 1944, 1 was sickened with the conviction that a major 
crisis with smog was clearly at hand which would demand immediate 
attention from that day onward. With no less anachronistic delusions, 
but slightly more cheerily, I expected during the same winter that within 
a year or so television technology would burst upon an era of abstract 
design and typography, bringing with it unfamiliar delights of music for 
the eye to enjoy and a language of information that would mean the 
ascendency of a new way with words and ideas that are still not clearly 
foreseen nor even describable. Yet to participate in all this my brother and 
I were already embarked upon filmmaking careers with abstract films. 

Back in those days, my brother and I had no sooner begun to yield to 
an excitement for this kind of filmmaking than we realized how deeply 
we were to become involved with technology. In an inconspicuous and 
not necessarily unique way, this art-technology relationship that we 
struggled with predates the proliferation of artists employing industrial 

170 Appendix 

and scientific technology. Cooperation from industry, especially the 
motion picture industry, was very difficult to obtain. 

As my own work progressed through the fifties, I came to a kind 
of intuition that a mechanical or electrical design instrument was the 
missing link in the realization of this abstract art of graphics in motion. 

I began to invent design machines. I explored the free swinging Lissajous 
pendulum as a pattern-making instrument. And I began to search through 
the war surplus junk yards like an archaeologist piecing together complex 
machines of some other world, since the dealers had dismantled most 
of the complicated World War II machinery simply because it retailed 
faster and more profitably in small pieces. 

This way I discovered the diverse family of mechanical analogue 
computing devices used mostly as antiaircraft weapons fire control sys- 
tems. I began to understand vaguely how these systems worked and I 
slowly learned how they could be converted into electro-optical graphic 
design machines. They were easily converted into machines for dealing 
with sine function geometry for example. 

It was only with a kind of hindsight, a kind of delayed double take 
that I realized I was working with a machine that was really a mechan- 
ical model of the modern digital computer graphic systems. But once 
having achieved this understanding, my own contemporary perspective 
was to follow rather logically from that discovery. 

So I could reason quite comfortably that just as the computer holds 
such promise in many scientific fields it must also represent the ultimate 
weapon - or less dramatically - the ultimate instrumentation for new 
dynamic graphic arts as well as music. 

Yet the problem might have arisen how could anyone in my position 
be able to arrange to use the computer if he was not trained and his 
purposes were in no way connected with the scientific or technical fields 
normally using the computer systems around the country. 

But this problem of qualification did not arise. It did not because 
slowly there is emerging out of the sometimes rather lurid flux of 
modem arts an art-science interplay. This art-science meeting ground 
is not exclusively due to the initiative of artists of course. The scientific 
community is ever more prepared to look across compartmentalized 
thresholds that once separated the human psyche and the human anat- 


omy, for example, into isolated domains of art and science respectively. 
Furthermore, after C. P. Snow, the chasm between science and the 
humanities has been well accounted for in terms of communication or 
its absence. 

The first generalized broadscale acceptance of ideas recognizing the 
relations of art, science and technology in art circles around the world 
seems to be occurring right now even though the Constructivist art 
movement has represented this viewpoint since the days of the Bauhaus 
and before. Perhaps now the cinema-television arts will affect an inte- 
gration with their technology. With such integration should come a 
clarification of the true thrust and potential of the cinema medium for 
communicating message on a hundredfold different levels than has been 
known to date. 

An unknown world of communication remains to be discovered 
within that area of visual experience bounded by color and pattern in 
motion and structured in time as in music. Typography, the unspoken 
word, can function in new ways within this realm of visual experience. 
So can the representational image, often in its broadest symbological, 
nonverbal, syntax. Of course, music and sound in general belong here. 

Music, often called the one truly universal language and looked 
upon, in some special cases, as exemplary of the highest cultural 
achievement of Western civilization, stands to be superseded as a 
communicating force when new arts of totally intermeshed image and 
sound become a part of daily life. Quite naturally then, the technology of 
computer graphics demarks the beginning of a new era as surely as we 
are witness to the end of an old. 

We may look forward to media of communication which are in utero 
today but which in the future may actually underpin the very structure 
of technological educational media and art if there is to be art. 

The first point of consideration in support of this view should be an 
examination of the meaning of structure or organization as it is under- 
stood in relation to modern concepts of information and knowledge. Pro- 
fessor Frederick B. Thompson of the California Institute of Technology 
has stated in a recent talk: 

“Experience underdetermines theory. Right there is room for those swift strokes of genius that 
sketch the underlying structure on which the distillations of our observations find harmony and 

172 Appendix 

projections beyond our experience find credibility. Data are to the scientist like the colors on the 
palette of the painter. It is by the artistry of his theories that we are informed. It is the organization 
that is the information." 

“The organization is the information,” indeed. I wish to propose that 
so far as the educational process is concerned, so far as art is concerned, 
we have hardly begun to comprehend the possibilities for meaningful 
reordering of information by the graphic image in structured time. We 
just do not know what media lie ahead nor what the message capacity 
will be. But we may be well-disposed to explore energetically these 
possibilities of structure in art and information. 



Interview with John Whitney 1970 

This sensitive interview by Film Comment's editor, Austin Larnont, asks some questions you may 
have wondered about while reading the main text, and it answers them with more interesting details 
about John Whitney's early career. - W. M. 

To begin really far back, I had a couple of years at Pomona College, and 
at that time was interested in music and thought that I would possibly 
become a composer. Simultaneously, I was also intrigued in a technical 
way with film and with cameras. I had played with cameras when I was 
very young. After two years at Pomona, I went to Europe and spent a 
year in Paris. And at that time, two things happened. I was a neighbor of 
Rene Leibowitz, who’s a conductor, known for his position with the 
French National Symphony Orchestra. But at that time he was best 
known as one of the outstanding pupils of Arnold Schoenberg; so he 
was writing and teaching Schoenberg music composition techniques. It 
was a very new thing, he was really of the radical avant-garde in Paris at 
that time, 1939, before the war. I had a very close association with him. 

I saw him two or three times a week over a period of several months. 
And so, though I had no formal training, I gained quite an extensive 
background in serial music composition that long ago. But also, the sec- 
ond thing that was happening was that I was there with an 8mm camera 
and intrigued with the idea of using it creatively. I had never heard of 
this kind of a film. I thought I had invented the concept of an abstract 
film. I began playing around with making abstract films. I thought of 
them as a kind of visual musical experience. It was only when I returned 
to California in the following years that I learned about Oskar Fischinger 
and the avant-garde filmmakers of the early twenties in Paris. 

174 Appendix 

Q: You were in Paris and. . . 

Whitney: . . . Knew nothing about any of that. I met Man Ray in Pasadena 
after I came back, though he was in Paris when I was there. So really, 
when I came back, I began seriously to experiment with little abstract 
designs with an 8mm camera, and by about 1940, my brother and I were 
working together. Those are still, to my way of thinking, very interesting 
little films. They’re hard to show; they’re silent. I was working on file 
cards and animating with an airbrush, cutouts, stencils. The first film 
consisted of a simple circle and a rectangle. The two were juxtaposed 
over each other in a certain way. I cut a stencil that represented the 
circle, and another stencil that represented the rectangle, overlapping. 
And then I made a stencil of that clean circle, and a stencil of the 
rectangle. And then I made a stencil of the negative shape created by the 
circle and the rectangle and so on. 

Q: Then you airbrushed cards through the stencils. 

Whitney : Laying a card against two edges, and laying the stencil against 
the same edges, spraying a corner of each card lightly with the air brush, 
just start to fill in one little corner on one card. Then I take the stencil 
away and replace the card with a fresh one: and this next one will 
be filled in this much more, and the third more and more; and in ten 
steps, I fill out the shape. Then there was a possibility of using the 
negative, so I would put down the negative stencil of that shape and I 
would blow just a little bit around one corner and then airbrush all 
around, until it completely enveloped that shape. So I had the shape in a 
positive form and a negative form, and the motion generated by these 
cards was quite a lively motion with a front edge that would fade out 
characteristic of air brush. So, just from that simple technique, I had a 
whole library of all these different air brush sequences. They added up 
to about one hundred fifty to two hundred cards. 

And at that point then, I conceived of the idea of using the optical 
printer, and having made these cards, I photographed the cards onto 
8mm black-and-white film. I built an 8mm optical printer, so that I could 
rephotograph those sequences according to a carefully worked out script, 


introducing color filters into the light source and photographing the se- 
quences onto color film. And so I developed the technique that I am still 
using here with the optical printer now, with the computer-graphic mate- 
rial. [Indicates optical printer nearby.] Here’s a light source, then a mirror 
goes here, and the filters rest on top of this condenser lens. Up above I 
have a lens tube extension and bellows arrangement, and the lens is 
normally at one-to-one; the field travels east and west and it rotates on 
its own dead center and another rotational point. It rotates down here, as 
well as at this level, so I can locate a rotational center that’s off the 
center of the field. 

Moreover, the camera goes up or down, so I can enlarge or reduce 
the field. Now the first 8mm optical printer had none of these complica- 
tions. It was straight one-to-one, and I had no power to reframe the 
image. The film was built entirely within a very strict set of limitations. 
But completion of the 8mm films was one of the peculiarly rewarding 
experiences in making film, because despite the limitations, I had control 
of all the possible permutations of that original material, and it was 
amazing how many effects could be worked out, how many little varia- 
tions could be made. They were quite interesting complex rhythmical 
actions all determined by the way these sequences were combined. 

The other point is that there’s always more than one superimposure. I’d 
back the film up in the camera and then run through a second time with 
a second color, some other element, working in a different way. The final 
thing is that the filmstrips could be threaded into the projector in such a 
way that you could mirror them, turn them over, or you could invert 
them. So, you had four different positions for each of the ten shapes. 

And there were still some other variations. 

It was truly gratifying, and it was stimulating enough so that we went 
on and made a 16mm optical printer. My brother and I felt very strongly 
that we wanted to be able to compose music as well as the picture. I 
invented a pendulum machine for making a variable-area sound track; 
and with that my brother and I together made the five abstract film exer- 
cises, through about 1944. Those are the films that got many showings. 
They won a first prize at the first experimental film competition in 
Belgium, and the Museum of Modem Art took prints, and Amos Vogel 
started distributing them through Cinema 16 

176 Appendix 

The Five Abstract Film Exercises takes me up into the late forties; 

I had a Guggenheim Fellowship for two years and during that time 
developed some spontaneous real-time animation techniques. I could 
manipulate paper cutouts to music. I was working with jazz - music that 
had no pretensions or none of the complexity and subtlety of structure of 
traditional Western music. I was finding ways of generating a visual mo- 
tion by ways that avoided the tedium and the restrictions that you get by 
any cell animation or any conventional techniques. I was manipulating 
cutouts and working with fluids, very much as they are used in the light 
shows. I had an oil bath on a level tray with the light below. I put dye 
into the oil until it was deep red, and then used red-blind film in the 
camera. With my finger or with a stylus, I could draw on this thin bath 
of oil; and that would push the oil away and the light would shine 
through so I could draw linear sequences very freely; and by selecting 
the weight and thickness of the oil, I could control the rate at which the 
line would erase itself, so that it was constantly erasing with a constantly 
fresh surface to draw on. I was doing that and manipulating paper cut- 
outs, and then doing a lot of direct etching on film as McLaren had 
done. I made, during that time, half a dozen little films to classic jazz 
such as Will Bradley. 

Q: You mean , you put the jazz on, and as it was playing you would draw. 

Whitney: I would do these things, yes, real time. I was building all of my 
own equipment all the time. I had a Selsyn interlock system. The sound- 
track would have been previously recorded, and it could be run back- 
ward and forward in interlock with the camera. The only cue I had was 
what I could hear; so I’d rehearse two or three riffs of a piece, plan it 
more or less spontaneously right there and then shoot it, then back the 
film up and work on another section or over the same section, a super- 
imposure over that, and then shoot it. I’d shoot a whole three-minute film 
in one afternoon’s work. Those things were shown around a lot. They 
were shown in Belgium at the Universal and International Exhibition of 
Brussels in 1958. 

Q: Did you run them through the optical printer? 


Whitney: No, those were all generated in the camera. I was experiment- 
ing a lot with contact printing ideas; I would combine positives and 
negatives. I would do one sequence and then print it in one color and a 
different sequence with entirely different kinds of action and print it 
with a second color and possibly a third color. The film, Celery Stalks At 
Midnight , was made that way in two or three colors. And another film, 
Dizzy Gillespie Hot House , I did that way. 

Q: Then did you go hack to working more with an optical printer system? 

Whitney: No. That work pointed to a kind of spontaneous performance - 
real-time performance. It pointed to something else, to give up film 
techniques entirely and to try video techniques. I made a proposal in 
the early fifties at UCLA to set up an arrangement with six or eight 
video cameras and six or eight performers using these various manipula- 
tion techniques, and the cameras were to be mixed electronically - then 
you’d perform a real-time graphic experience as an ensemble: and it 
seemed to me that it had great validity, and I still think very highly of 
that kind of a possibility. I’m surprised that the people working with 
the light shows haven’t really ever done anything like this in that way. 
Their work is so totally unrehearsed and spontaneous. Even if they do 
rehearse - and some of them do - few of them have really thought of a 
kind of structuring of graphics. They’re more concerned with a kind of 
storytelling, as far as I can see. 

A commercial venture could never put up the money to pay a whole 
orchestra. But at a school, it could have been set up, and maybe it will be. 
A group might work together, and develop the same rehearsed dexterity 
and professional skill as an ensemble that you find in music. This goes 
on all the time with music groups. They all work together to develop 
great sensitivity, and spend a tremendous amount of time rehearsing and 
developing interactive responses. 

Q: The proposal was turned down? 

Whitney: Yes. The video communications department at UCLA, just as it 
is at any other university, is oriented toward either educational television 

178 Appendix 

or training for the television profession, training directors and so on, and 
they stay close to the standards. They follow instead of lead. 


Q: What did you do then? 

Whitney: Well, by that time, the late fifties, I was becoming concerned 
with the concept that the whole media of motion pictures was not the 
media that I thought it was, that actually what the motion picture camera 
would see to record is the thing that’s important. I began to give my 
attention to mechanical design machines. It coincided with a growing 
skill that I was developing with the technology of the surplus junk yard. 

And so, by 1957 or 1958 I was on to these analog computing devices 
that were used as antiaircraft gun directors, and aware of the fact that I 
was able, for pennies, to buy mechanical equipment that’s unbelievably 
costly, and involved fantastic skill in engineering design and production. 
And I began to see these things as containing within them, somehow, 
the possibilities for a very flexible design tool, which should be the thing 
of my interest, instead of trying to improve cameras or develop other 
camera techniques. And that led me into developing my animation 
machine. The film Catalog was made on it. 

Q: It looked like a lot of oscilloscope images very carefully controlled 
and moving in a very precise fashion. 

Whitney: It actually is doing mechanically what an oscilloscope would 
do; and that’s when I began to realize that what I was doing mechan- 
ically could be done on the cathode ray tube computer terminal. In about 
1966 I made a proposal to IBM, and I began operating under an IBM 
research grant. That’s where I am now. But between 1958 and 1966, I 
used the mechanical-optical machine primarily to make a living. It be- 
came quite successful. I did a number of commercials and feature film 
titles, and titles for television shows, using that equipment. 

Q: Did you make any of your own films with it? 

Whitney: The Museum of Modern Art is distributing Catalog now, but I 


never thought of it as a film. I didn’t enter it in competitions and never 
thought of it as a work of art. It was what it was - a catalogue. I used it 
as a sample reel. 

Q: How was the film Lapis made? 

Whitney: Jim made that, my brother. He continued to make films, he was 
not so much hardware-minded as I was, and he worked patiently by 
himself. He lived over in the valley out in California. The fact that he 
lives in the valley and we live in the Pacific Palisade means we’re in two 
different worlds practically. We kept in touch and had quite amiable 
contact with each other. And in fact, after I got this cam machine built, 
Jim finished a film titled Yantra, by the same technique that we had used 
from the very beginning. He much more carefully, much more patiently, 
made elaborate cards of hand-drawn dots - thousands of dots - and then 
subjected these to optical printing procedures where patterns of dots 
were piled upon patterns upon patterns, one level after another, then 
solarized all of those sequences, and printed them in different colors. 
When he finished Yantra it was shown around extensively. I think it was 
finished in the late fifties. Then I had my cam machine operating, and I 
helped him construct a similar machine for himself. He started working 
on Lapis. The year 1963, when I went to the Belgium experimental film 
competition, he finally reached that absolute end point. He was having 
such frustrations with his machine. It was getting at him so strongly that 
he finally decided that he was not going to go on and work with film at 
all. He became interested in ceramics. And so Lapis sat around in cans 
for two or three years. Jordan Belson persuaded him to put it together in 
its present form. He’s not been making films since then. 

Q: Did you do anything between the cam machine and the IBM computer? 

Whitney: No, but during that time, actually, my sons and Jackie [his 
wife] were beginning to get involved in making films. And when I be- 
came a consultant for IBM, that left the cam machine free for them to 
work with. Each of them has done things with it. Jackie’s getting more 
and more involved. My oldest son John has been making very signifi- 

180 Appendix 

cant refinements of that machine this year, changing it over - adding 
another level that was beyond me, working with servo systems, the 
most sophisticated of electrical engineering technology. Servo systems 
are not like Selsun systems, they are motors that run according to com- 
puterized information that you give them. They’ll run fast or slow and 
under absolute control. What’s actually shaping up is the probability that 
that machine is going to become a functioning optical system under 
computer control. This we’re expecting. We may very well finance this 
next year and, if we do, I’ll have a system with almost the same poten- 
tials as the programming system that I have with the IBM equipment in 
my own machine. 

Q: What else are you doing? As if that wasn't enough? 

Whitney: Well, that’s about where it is. The thing to emphasize beyond 
that is that I think this kind of film is starving for want of much more 
creative imagination in the area of formal esthetic creativity. 

Q: The hardware is so dominant in the whole process. 

Whitney: That’s so. And there are periods all the way along when they 
screwed around with all kinds of machines and then finally they learned 
to fly, in all that time no real flying was taking place. But we are, I feel, 
approaching a time when we’ll have something that flies and with that, 
the really important emphasis should fall completely away from the 
technology and the hardware and we’ll be face to face with the real 
problems. I am quite gratified in these last two years because, in a 
way, that’s exactly what I’ve done in my relationship with IBM; I have 
not had to worry about hardware there. I have a system here which I 
described to you, but it’s an established system; I haven’t had to be 
innovating or messing around with inventing new technical problems. 
Nor have I with the program that I’ve had. The program that I’ve had 
has had a few refinements made during the time I’ve used it, but essen- 
tially it’s the same one that I started out with. And so, I’ve really had 
three years of the most rewarding creative study. . . and I think that’s 
been enormously valuable: I think that I’m getting insights into struc- 

tural solutions to learn how to make a graphic experience with some 
impact and done with some feeling and not just as a mechanism. I think, 
in that sense, Permutations is suggestive and points in that direction. 

Q: I think you ve been doing this in the films. You re very strongly taken 
and gripped by this thing you re looking at and you don't care how it is 
made when you watch it. You just want to watch it. 

Whitney: Well, that’s what I hope is the response. 

182 Appendix 


Animation Mechanisms 1971 

This article provides the best introduction to some of the hardware/machinery John Whitney has 
been using to produce his films. American Cinematographer, Hollywood's professional journal, com- 
missioned the article, which was a triumphant breakthrough for an independent filmmaker. - W. M. 

The October, 1969 issue of American Cinematographer contained an 
article on filming the Star Gate sequences for 2001: A Space Odyssey. 
Reference was made to my animation mechanisms and I have been 
invited to describe these. 

As early as 1957 I had begun to construct mechanical drawing ma- 
chines, reasoning simply that since the motion picture phenomenon is a 
precise incremental stepping process, a drawing tool capable of incre- 
mental variation would be useful. It is important to explain that I was 
not motivated to create representational images with these machines but, 
instead, wanted to create abstract pattern in motion. Since 1940, I had 
found myself devoted to the concept of an abstract visual art of motion 
structured in time, having for some years reflected over and over again 
upon the extraordinary power of music to evoke the most explicit emo- 
tions directly by its simple patterned configurations of tones in time and 
motion. The tendencies of much art of this century toward abstraction 
and kinetics served to reinforce these views during many moments of 
serious doubts of the validity of my own concepts. 

My first machine, 1957, was immediately put to use in an unexpected 
way when Saul Bass included a few short sequences, drawn upon hun- 
dreds of animation cells with the machine’s stylus, for the title to Alfred 
Hitchcock’s film Vertigo. For one with such visions as mine centered in 
the fine arts, (an art so “fine,” incidentally, as to be quite invisible), such 


applications as titles to a not very significant movie were scant reward. 

Also, I soon saw the absurdity of a drawing machine producing 
countless animation cells which had to be photographed in turn onto 
motion picture film. So my next machine replaced the drawing stylus 
with a light which optically exposed the image sequences directly onto 
motion picture film by the simple dynamic process of holding the 
camera shutter open while the light itself completed one excursion for 
each frame. 

It soon became clear that there were plentiful absurdities in this 
procedure, since, in effect, I found I had labored long and hard only to 
produce hardly more than a mechanical equivalent of the cathode ray 
tube oscilloscope. 

The mechanical motion which first moved the drawing pen over 
animation cells and, later, the light to and fro over the objective field of 
an ordinary animation stand assembly was merely a set of crank and 
lever arrangements similar to the ubiquitous child’s circle pattern drawing 
toy or the more elaborate drawing or etching mill used in the bank note 
printing industry. 

By this time, however, I became aware of two areas of possibility, 
the coincidence of which had considerable effect upon the following 

I began to comprehend how camera advance, art work, orbital and 
rotational motion, and illumination, could all be knit into a comprehen- 
sive automated functioning system. Simultaneously I acquired, (not 
exactly overnight) a highly specialized skill in adapting the almost worth- 
less mechanical junk excreted from army depots across the country as the 
Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines unloaded material on the surplus 
market. Junk such as brand new thirty-thousand-dollar antiaircraft 
specialized analog ballistic problem-solver computers dating back to 
World War II. 

My next machine employed hardware from war surplus: Selsyn 
motors to interlock camera functions with artwork motions; ball inte- 
grators to preset rate programming of some motions; and differential 
assemblies to control the incremental advance of the motions as each 
frame advanced. 

Instead of a point source of light capable of drawing only lines, the 

184 Appendix 

camera was fixed above a light field about twelve inches wide. Artwork 
consisting usually of film negatives of typography or rudimentary 
abstract patterns (clear images on an overall black field) could be or- 
bited, rotated or moved in a great variety of compound sine function 
excursions within the twelve-inch light field. 

The camera above was motorized to advance one frame automati- 
cally at the instant of the completion of one cycle of the artwork motion. 
Driven through a clutch-brake and continuously running motor, camera 
advance was made as rapid as practical to minimize that blind segment 
of the artwork cycle required for pulldown for the next frame to be 
exposed. Thus, throughout the major portion of the artwork excursions 
the camera shutter would be in open position. 

In order to clarify the simple principles involved here we may take 
as an example of sequence from my film Catalog. A film negative 
having “1961” (clear type face on a black field) is mounted on the 
artwork holder. This artwork is attached so that “1961” is located at 
dead center in the camera field when viewed through the rack-over view- 
finder of the 35mm Mitchell camera (crank and lever mechanisms had 
been replaced by a more elaborate variable amplitude compound cam 
assembly by this time). 

The art, “1961,” so positioned in center field, can be articulated by 
the cam system which, for the moment, is set at “0” amplitude. The light 
field below the artwork is turned on, then the entire system is turned 
on. Artwork “1961” sits there throughout several complete “0” am- 
plitude cycles while the camera advances at the completion of each 
cycle, exposing on each frame the image “1961,” immobile at dead cen- 
ter field. Now the amplitude controls, through differential gears, begin 
a minute orbiting which moves the art on an orbit with an increasing 
radius whose center is still camera field center. The simple image, 

“1961” now begins to be transformed into a progressively less readable 
pattern. The pattern that is produced, moving as it does, smoothly, and 
expanding outwardly, will continue to hold visual interest if only as a 
simple attractive abstract pattern. (See illustration, Figure A.) 

If, instead of a continuously operating filament-type light source, a 
strobe light is used, the continuous pattern on the film can be broken into 
individual distinct overlaying images such as those illustrated. (Figure B) 

I have selected both of these simple actions to suggest some of the 
possibilities of which the machine is capable. My film Catalog (see 
cover illustration) is a more diverse demonstration of the versatility of 
the machine. This film, used as a sample reel, was to be very productive 
of commercial assignments in the following years. The titles to the 
Chrysler, Bob Hope Television Show and portions of To the Moon and 
Beyond of the New York World’s Fair, Alcoa commercials and titles to 
the Dinah Shore Show were typical. Of all the productions of this 
period, however, the one film which will probably endure was produced 
with my second version of this machine and made by my brother James. 
The film I refer to is titled Lapis. It has received many awards and 
continues to be a very popular film. 

The following is a description of the effects seen throughout Lapis. 
Most of the patterns are center-oriented, constantly moving dots of color 
which continuously reform into new concentric arrays. They were 
achieved by a strobed rotary action of the artwork which combined an 
orbit, whose diameter was constantly changing, with drifting rotation. 
The artwork consisted usually of nothing more than a simple random dot 
pattern which was hand drawn. 

My brother and I were much intrigued by the results achieved by 
these simple random dot inputs. It was astonishing to discover the 
variety of orderly patterns generated by as random a source as these dot 
patterns. The original artwork contains no hint of the patterns that were 
produced. (Figure C) 

The above descriptions, however, still represent but the simplest of 
countless transformations that can be achieved with essentially the same 
mechanical system. For example, the shape of the orbital motion can be 
varied into back-and-forth motion on any angular axis with the X and Y 
controls of the compound cam assembly. A straight back-and-forth mo- 
tion along a line at right angles to a line of type for example produces an 
effect such as that illustrated. (Figure D) 

Countless further variations can be produced by altering cycle phas- 
ing relative to camera advance or exposing only some fraction of each 
cycle or by changing the timing of the illumination, its frequency and/or 
its on-and-off duration. 

These possibilities are greatly expanded by inclusion in this fully 

186 Appendix 

integrated system of a servo-motorized zoom lens. The zoom cycle is 
phased and operated through all or part of its full magnification range in 
cycles that coincide with the various excursion cycles of the artwork. 

The illustration (Figure E) is from a commercial for a milk product 
made in 1964 and was generated from artwork consisting of a careful 
hand-rendering of a single droplet of milk. In this case the orbit of the 
artwork began with the zoom lens at about midpoint of its magnifica- 
tion range. Then the zoom was operated through progressively greater 
magnification amplitudes per cycles as the elliptical orbits of the artwork 
were modified. The drawing was strobed nine times per cycle, producing 
a ring of nine orbiting spheres. 

Finally, since my earliest casual interest with motion picture photog- 
raphy had been in a college astronomy department, I was familiar with 
various applications of optical slit-scanning connected with solar spec- 
troscopy. It was, therefore, logical to apply these principles to my motion 
picture system. The titles for MGM’s Glass Bottom Boat , and many 
other commercial assignments, were done with a slit attached to one 
element of the compound cam assembly. The typography was attached 
to the other cam. The slit was set to move one full excursion across the 
full width of the type, while the type moved north and south one or more 
times per half-cycle of the slit. The return phase of the slit-scan cycle 




















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was accomplished while the camera shutter remained advanced, one half 
cycle, in closed position. Since there was a preset differential drift of 
the north and south movement of the typography the lettering on the 
screen appeared to undulate smoothly as if in water. (Figure F) 

The combination of this slit-scan technique with zoom produces very 
pronounced spatial motion in depth. This is specifically the slit-scan 
effect used to produce the Star Gate sequence of Space Odyssey. My 
son’s film, By Jina Flores was produced by this slit-scan zoom combina- 
tion. The artwork consisted merely of a standard Benday process over- 
all dot pattern with a slit-scan and zoom cycle in differentially drifting 
interlock. (Figure G) 

This existing machine is grossly overdesigned. As a prototype, many 
experimental subassemblies have been installed and removed or perma- 
nently established over the recent years. In fact, like some machine 
tools, each new film assignment involves some hardware assembly or 
knockdown. The machine practically fills the room into which it was 
built. The machine was featured on a CBS 21st Century Television seg- 
ment in 1968. Two overhead wood beams, 4"x 12", span the room and 
carry the camera on a transverse dolly hanger assembly whose move- 
ment is free and independent of the artwork manipulating mechanism 
and illumination table below. This camera hanger assembly permits 360° 
continuous rotation of the camera, and back-and-forth straight-line travel 
over about twenty-four inches. The assembly connects all the camera’s 
electrical leads; selsyn, film advance, zoom functions and phase shift 
through slip ring contacts to permit the continuous around-and-around 
camera rotation. These camera motions, of course, can be phased and 
synchronized precisely with the artwork motions below. 

The artwork table below can be rotated 360° as a total unit, but 
cannot be operated continuously around because of its electrical connec- 
tions. Since some of the cam functions have been covered already I will 
skip any further description except to say that at present the machine 
possesses four complete cam assemblies, any one of which can be set 
up to manipulate artwork or scanning slits or color filter patterns, etc. 
These units can be compounded in various ways to produce sum and 
difference effects. 

It is somewhat idle information to count components but as an index 

188 Appendix 

of the complexity to which this kind of design system can be extended, 
the following statistics are suggestive: 

17 Bodine Motors 

8 Selsyns 

9 differential gear units 
5 Ball integrators 

This present machine is now serving to test out a vastly simplified 
and rationalized system operated by servo drives and controls which, 
with a designed interface, will permit direct digital computer control. 

The new machine will be marketed under a patent granted in 1963 and 
others in development. 

In conclusion, may I be permitted a comment from a very special- 
ized point of view: 

My optimisms are more secure today than in 1940 regarding the 
arrival of altogether new forms of art for television and the newer home 
library cassette systems. I foresee new forms of abstract design and 
typography, which will bring unfamiliar delights of music for the eye to 
enjoy and a language of information that would mean the ascendancy of 
a new way with words, images and ideas. 

Any casual viewer of television throughout the year 1970 may have 
noted that graphics, especially typography, have found a new dynamics 
that is quite happily suited to the television medium. For example, in 1970, 
three major networks sponsored promotional interludes that anyone 
with an eye for design could respond to with unreserved pleasure. Yet, 
television in the United States, which is sometimes a thing of national 
pride, is far too frequently a matter of national disgrace. Aside from 
bad taste, bad design, establishmentarianism and commercial impru- 
dence, the problems of television still have much to do with a medium 
that seeks to find its own “right way to fly.” Traditions, especially 
from the theatre, are still a deadweight against flying new video ideas. 
My work has always been with new kinds of “flying machines.” 



Computer Art 

for the Video Picture Wall 1971 

In this address delivered in 1971 to the International Federation of Information Processing Societies, 
at L 'jubliana, Yugoslavia (and published that year in Art International ), John Whitney links his 
philosophical discussions of music theory to specific examples taken from his computer film 
Permutations and Matrix films. Further notes on Matrix are appended. - W.M. 

It has already been suggested by Ivan Sutherland that computer graphic 
visual displays, like the telescope and microscope beforehand, have 
begun to open to our vision a heretofore invisible world. We can say 
that the computer has the power to bring about visual enlightenment 
with regard to much in the world that was formerly abstruse mathemat- 
ical data. For example, periodic phenomena of nature that could be 
understood in mathematical terms only, have often failed to have meaning 
outside the society of mathematicians and scientists in general till the 
present when computer displays are beginning to present new real-time 
visualizations of these phenomena. 

One domain of periodic phenomena, however, has had its impact 
upon our sense of hearing. This domain has been a matter of deep inter- 
est and feeling and even considerable understanding to artists. The im- 
mediacy of impact upon the audio sense is unequivocal here. The artists 
to whom I refer are the musicians and composers of the world’s diverse 
musical cultures. And their periodic domain is of course the audio spec- 
trum of music with its tones and rhythms, its harmonic interrelationships. 

It is interesting to speculate how early in prehistory it was that man 
stumbled onto a system of ordering the audio spectrum. Here was a 
continuum, a chaos, of infinite frequencies existing between the lowest 
tone - roughly 18 or 20 cycles per second - to the highest, say 18,000 
Hz. Yet, long before Pythagoras, the simple intervals of the octave, the 

190 Appendix 

fifth and fourth were extracted and used constructively by musicians and 
chanters. Addison in his journal The Spectator, in the year 1711, assigns 
to Pythagoras his traditional claim to fame, an anachronism of music 
history which was a common error of the 17th and 18th centuries: 
Pythagoras, wrote Addison, . . reduced what was before only noise, to 
one of the most delightful of all sciences, by marrying it to mathematics; 
and by that means caused it to be one of the most abstract and demon- 
strative of sciences.”* 

We know very little about the music of earlier civilizations (music 
was so perishable) but the music of Western European culture since 
the 14th century has been held in great esteem, often honored as the 
very highest intellectual achievement of Western civilization. And 
one further point is that, at least until the beginnings of our present era, 
music and science progressed hand in hand, with considerable interest 
shared by scientists and artists interchangeably over the mystery of the 
mathematical verities underlying the structure of music and their relation 
in turn to the rhythms of the cosmos. 

In a way all of this has been obscured by modern preoccupations, 
and yet the relation between mathematics and music has not been dis- 
credited. Although Jean-Philippe Rameau and others did not succeed in 
their efforts to discover a comprehensive mathematical foundation for 
music, we can state with certainty that there is an implicit and very 
complex order of periodic structures behind most of the musical art of 
all times. 

Let us say it is one of the fortuitous happenings of nature that a 
vibrating string of fixed length and tension sounds a characteristic pitch 
of tone consistently. But to embellish this tone to aesthetic perfection, 
violin makers devoted several centuries of exacting sound box experi- 
ment. They were engaged, without ever calling it that, in research upon a 
harrowingly complex periodic waveform study designed to satisfy a 
particular human sensitivity. 

Today the computer offers a means to deal analytically with periodic 
phenomena of such subtle complexity, suggesting that we may come to 

* Philosophies of Music History, A Study of General Histories of Music 1600-1960, by Warren 
Dwight Allen. Dover Publications, Inc. New York, 1962. 


an understanding of some of the profusion of quandaries that permeate 
musical analysis. John R. Pierce, discussing the computer’s powers to 
synthesize music, confirms the complexity of these problems: 

We are faced with an intriguing challenge. In principle, the computer can become the universal 
musical instrument. All that stands between us and all that was previously unattainable is an 
adequate grasp, scientific and intuitional, of the relevant knowledge of psychoacoustics. Both by 
experimentation, and by careful measurement and analysis of musical sounds, we must find among 
the bewildering complexity of the world of sound what factors, what parameters are important, and 
in what degree, in achieving the effects at which we aim: all the variations of sound that we hear 
from a skilled instrumentalist, all the characteristic sounds of instruments, the rich massed sound of 
the orchestra, and everything that can possibly lie beyond these familiar elements of music.* 

But more to the point of this presentation I wish to stress new visual 
powers of the computer. Computer graphic displays offer an entirely 
unique method of dealing with visual periodic phenomena. The com- 
puter can manipulate visual patterns in a way that closely corresponds 
with the manner in which musical instrumentation has dealt with the 
audio spectrum since the first strings, skins, metal and reeds were used 
to make music. 

A modern study with computer graphics has begun which is some- 
what similar to that Western European period in the development of 
musical art and instrumentation. In saying this I am confronted with an 
instantaneous assumption by most people that I am comparing the audio 
spectrum to the spectrum of light with its colors. No such thing is the 
case. The similarity of tones to colors has caught the imagination of 
many composers and painters and philosophers since Leonardo. Yet 
today we may look upon this viewpoint as being rather too simplistic. 
Here is a typical expression of this viewpoint in a quotation from 
George Santayana: 

There are certain effects of colour which give all men pleasure, and others which jar, almost like a 
musical discord. A more general development of this sensibility would make possible a new 
abstract art, an art that should deal with colours as music does with sound, o 

To come nearer to the truth of this matter one may turn to John Dewey 

* Cybernetic Serendipity, The Computer and the Arts, A Studio International Special Issue edited by 
Jasia Reichardt. Studio International, London, July, 1968. 

o The Sense of Beauty, by George Santayana. Published by Modern Library and Collier-MacMillan, 


192 Appendix 

for another prediction of a future art that is astonishingly like Santaya- 
na’s in some ways but also significantly different: 

Today rhythms which physical science celebrates are obvious only to thought, not to perception in 
immediate experience. They are presented in symbols which signify nothing in sense-perception. 
They make natural rhythms manifest only to those who have undergone long and severe discipline. 
Yet a common interest in rhythm is still the tie which holds science and art in kinship. Because of 
this kinship, if is possible that there may come a day in which subject matter that now exists only 
for laborious reflection . . . will become the substance of. . . (art). . . and thereby be the matter of 
enjoyed perception. * 

This idea, set down well before computers were born is exactly the point 
I wish to make. Let me repeat, the computer graphic display can make 
perceptible to the sense that which was heretofore invisible except to the 
educated discerning mind. Certain phenomena, especially periodic as- 
pects of the world of mathematics, that which has so intrigued the spe- 
cialist as to evoke in some trained observers a sense of wonder as with 
music itself and often thought of as akin to music can now be made ac- 
cessible to direct visual experience. 

R. Buckminster Fuller has talked about this matter of direct experi- 
ence in another way. He places emphasis upon the function of the artist 
to humanize and communicate a modern world vision. He reminds us 
that this century’s science and technology have discovered and put to use 
practically the entire electromagnetic spectrum, which is still, to the 
senses, invisible and quite incomprehensible to the individuals whose 
lives are transformed daily by new technology. This makes for a large 
part of the chasms of misunderstandings, he says, that characterize the 
latter part of the 20th century. Fuller rightfully comprehends the pos- 
sibilities for new arts in these freshly discovered domains, and the cul- 
tural imperatives of a restoration of kinship between science and art. 

Now neither Buckminster Fuller nor John Dewey nor Santayana has 
the last word on the overlapping domains of art and science. But their 
words tell you much by way of background to the field that I have been 
involved with throughout the last five years. I have been using the com- 
puter as if it were a new kind of piano. Using the computer to generate 
periodic visual action, with a mind to reveal harmonic, juxtaposed 
against enharmonic, phenomena. To create tensions and resolutions and 

*Art as Experience, by John Dewey. Minton, Balch and Company, New York, 1934. 


to form rhythmic structures out of ongoing repetitive and serial patterns. 
To create ordered variation of changes. To create harmonies in motion 
that the eye might perceive and enjoy. 

I do not pretend to have advanced far beyond elementary exercises 
with the few films I have to show. In fact, as I listen to some of the 
earliest known ensemble compositions of anonymous 13th century com- 
posers of Europe, I envy their skill and sophistication with their young 
art. Yet it is historic fact that the process, underway that long ago, some- 
how foretold the achievements of Bach and Mozart. Was it not a kind of 
collective learning process? Learning to manipulate and construct such 
an enormous variety of periodic phenomena of pitch, rhythm, tonal rela- 
tionships and dynamics. At least we do know that learning and invention 
progressed hand in hand with the refinement of a great variety of instru- 
mentation capable of satisfying the musical discoveries of composers by 
providing hardware with which to realize their compositional software. 

The marvel of the modern computer need not de-emphasize the 
probability that even smaller and more versatile graphic systems lie 
ahead. Nor the probability that future generations of artists will know 
better how to use these systems. 

I have tried thus far to present a different, and I hope unexpected, 
introduction to my work in order to stress that it is not a film art like any 
of the forms of film art that are established and well-known today. I 
could say that what I am doing is more akin to music than to film art, 
but that too evokes preconceptions that I wish to avoid. All that my 
work has in common with music is, let us say, this patterning of various 
periodic phenomena in time. 

Further remarks on analog and digital computer graphic systems 

Computer graphic instruments are interesting for their possibilities for 
generating motion. In fact, there exists a vast unexplored world of 
movement and rhythm in abstract space which is now realizable thanks 
to this type of hardware. When we examine these images in motion in 
their spatial environment we find they can hardly be likened to any pre- 
viously known visual experience. This space is unreal space that exists 
only by virtue of the motion of the abstract forms that move in it. Forms 
can interpenetrate one another. There are none of the limits of mass, 

194 Appendix 


inertia and gravity such as real bodies in motion encounter. Acceleration 
and velocity limitations are the same as with light itself. Color can be 
varied as a free continuum of the visible spectrum. 

One clue which has the smell of basic principle to it is a promising 
outcome of my research study. This clue has to do with periodic visual 
structures. By way of comparison, music is unequivocally periodic 
phenomena. Music is a continuum of periodic construction in time. I 
share a familiar ground with the composer who deals with time as a 
major component of his art by composing with periodic units. 

Now I have a clue, a hint as to how visual elements can be set in 
motion in their own time and space. This clue indicates one thing: to 
deal with time as a major component of visual art, we must think quite 
differently about graphic form. To construct periodic elements with 
visual raw material, an entirely new concept of graphics must be 
formulated which places far greater emphasis upon time and motion 
than has ever before been assumed. 

So far as I know, few have considered graphic art in periodic terms. 

Yet all abstract art from Piet Mondrian to Jackson Pollock and Frank 
Stella might be examined for rhythmic components. Rhythm and 
dynamic forces exist in static potential; or in a state of frozen equilib- 
rium, as Mondrian proposed. 

We have a highly developed art of animation already a few genera- 
tions old. But here also, no one that I know has ever proposed a theory 
of periodic principles, except on the elementary level that the single 
frame equals one twenty-fourth part of a second. The animation arts 
have not truly invaded the domain of abstract art as have painting and 

With the computer as an animation tool, however, its mathematical 
determinants have led directly into a new world of integer ratios and 
algebraic functions - harmonic phenomena which express themselves 

First of all, since the computer positions and shapes any graphic 
object by x-y coordinates, it becomes the most natural way to position 
and move objects by way of some dynamic numerical functions of jc and 
v. Immediately harmonic functions come to mind with regard to moving 
objects relative to each other. Thinking of graphic form, since it all must 


be expressed in x-y or polar coordinates anyway, impels one toward 
number functions. 

It is singularly ironic, to say the least, that most artist experimenters 
with computer graphics thus far have sought ways to circumvent the 
imposing fact that all their graphic conceptions must be translated into 
number functions. After resisting this rather tedious reality for some 
time, myself, I have come to welcome the mathematical basis of com- 
puter graphics because of the structural advantages I have discovered 
thereby. I have come to accept the numerical problems which are natural 
procedure with my computerized tool. Now I find that this very acceptance 
has opened the door to a new world of visual design in motion whose 
true essence is digital periodicity. But for some details that are not im- 
portant, this is much the same world that the composer has known for 
at least a thousand years: composing audio design periodicity. 

Remarks referring to Permutations , an 8-minute film made with the 
IBM 2250 Graphic Display Terminal 

Now to illustrate, in some detail, what I might call visual harmonics. 
These 281 points are moving about the screen according to a set of 
instructions in a graphics program which were input to the computer. 
Incidentally, it would be difficult to find a better demonstration of the 
powers of the computer as an animation tool than this film sequence. 
Imagine having to animate by hand 281 points, all moving in precise 
orbits at independent rates and directions. The program instructions say, 
in effect: Starting at the center of the screen, step to the right a computed 
distance and move in an arc around to the left so many computed angu- 
lar degrees and place one point. From there, compute a new radius dis- 
tance outward and a new theta arc around and place another point. Now 
repeat this procedure again and again for a total of 281 points. This takes 
about a second or two computation time on the computer to produce 
only one frame of this motion picture. Each frame is slightly different 
because some of the parameters of the instruction equation are changing 
with each new computed picture. As you watch the picture on the screen 
here, 24 new pictures a second are displayed and you can see changes 
taking place sometimes very rapidly and sometimes quite slowly. This 
rate is determined by the size of the incremental steps, or the parametric 

196 Appendix 

changes, as they are written into the basic equation. Now you will notice 
that the points seem to be scattered around in a circular area randomly at 
one moment. But at certain moments they all seem to fall in line to make 
up some simple rose curve, symmetrical figure; sometimes it is a three- 
lobed figure, or ten- or four- or two-lobed figure. These action sequences 
proceeding from order to disorder and back to ordered patterning, 
suggest a parallel to harmonic phenomena of the musical scale. In an 
aesthetic sense, they have the same effect; the tensional effects of con- 
sonance and dissonance. The scattered points fall into some ordered 
symmetrical figure when all the numerical values of the equation reach 
some integer or whole number set of ratios. The effect is to subtly gen- 
erate and resolve tension - which is similar to the primary emotional 
power of music composition. 

A Word About Matrix 

Matrix is a short film consisting of horizontal and vertical lines, squares 
and cubes. All motion is along a closed invisible pathway (the matrix) 
which is a classical Lissajous figure positioned symmetrically within the 
motion picture field. The motion of the entire film is simply a sequence 
of events of clustering and dispersal of the lines, squares and cubes. 

The sonata segments by Padre Antonio Soler were selected to ac- 
company this film after the film was nearly in final form. Very little 
stretching or shortening of picture or sound was required. 

Matrix was made at the California Institute of Technology as one 
part of the arts program initiated by the division of Humanities and 
Social Sciences with joint IBM sponsorship. The computer program was 
created by Dr. Frederick B. Thompson, Professor of Applied Sciences 
and Philosophy at Cal Tech. Called REL (Rapidly Extensible Language) 
system, this program permits construction of elaborate graphic images 
with highly controllable time development through the recursive aspects 
of its formulation. An advantage of this program is its interactive con- 
venience. Design ideas can be formulated, input into the computer at a 
typewriter keyboard and then displayed by a selectable sampling of the 
action, all in rather rapid order. 



Cranbrook Essay 1973 

This important address delivered to the Computer Arts Society of America at Cranbrook Art 
Academy, May, 1973, elaborates the analogy between classical music and various visual phenomena, 
natural and cinematic. Here Whitney justifies his rejection of multi-plane simulation of everyday 
perception of motion from a fixed-perspective context. He also affirms that the intricacies of musi- 
cal dynamics - the legendary defrosted architecture of Baroque music, for example - demand a 
wholly new moving visual counterpart so complex that only the new technology will be able to 
manipulate it. - W. M. 

In a proposal a few years ago, I tried to present a visualization of some 
graphic possibilities that might be realized through careful research on 
computer graphic instruments. I tried to evoke an image I had myself 
seen many years before. The image was difficult to put into words. My 
capacities were inadequate to describe the extreme subtleties of a quite 
beautiful dynamic phenomenon of nature. I wanted to describe the turbu- 
lent activity of minute water particles that anyone can see in the space of 
about a cubic foot of densely foggy and quiet nighttime air - assuming 
exactly the right lighting conditions. Since these water particles are 
much smaller than the average raindrop and are charged electrostatically 
in such a way that they do not collide, they flow in casual turbulence 
moving freely and smoothly in all directions - upward as often as down 
and to left and right. These droplets behave as would a school of min- 
nows or bees. 

Yet my metaphors profane the elegance and the phenomenal beauty 
of the motion I was trying to picture, since bees and fish must propel 
themselves. They maneuver about rather awkwardly, whereas these 
microspheres of water are almost effortlessly pushed and pulled in 
three-space by a fantastic complex of interactive forces of unfathomable 
precision and curvilinear hyperdynamism. 

198 Appendix 


I wanted to say in my paper that this image of motion was the one 
experience I knew firsthand with which I could honestly compare my 
feelings about many works of polyphony performed, for example, by a 
string quartet. Leaving out much else that connotes the power of music, 
at least the spatial interweaving of clean, delineated pattern was there 
along with forces of orderly interrelationship. Even if you could not 
possibly interpret the laws that govern this cloud of simultaneous trajec- 
tories, the strongest part of that utterly fascinating experience was its 
sophisticated conformity to rule. This fits my ideal of what music should 
be like. And in fact dozens of composers over several centuries in 
Europe have repeatedly confirmed that ideal. 

I was always delighted with that parallel to music. Since here was a 
visual motion - of all things - which most vividly evoked the very 
qualities one enjoys through hearing music. More or less, that simple 
vision has sustained my career for almost thirty years. It has given me 
many special insights into film form. It sent me off constructing some 
rather unorthodox machines that supplement and systematize the 
motion picture photography of abstract motion. And in due time directed 
me straight to computer graphic instrumentation armed with convictions 
few people comprehend or share. On the other hand, I have not shared 
the confusion of many artists who may sense that there must be some 
great potential in computer technology, but who falter with their own 
definitions of purpose and creativity. 

Having completed several computer graphic films, I find it is not diffi- 
cult to attempt to sketch some first principles which might help to de- 
fine a new visual art. Composers began early on - centuries ago - to 
attempt their own enunciation of musical principles. Otherwise our best 
composers would not have had the benefit of needed teachers. Most 
rules that composers learned in childhood or youth consisted of sets of 
prohibitions. Pope Gregory, in the 6th century I believe, established 
codices so rich in prohibitions and so strict in orthodoxy (not to demean 
the music) that excommunication awaited the nonconformist. Rules that 
state what should be done usually lie hidden in the musicians’ own 
creative talents, and so only prohibitions surface where they can be ap- 
prehended and written down. Excommunication is not a bad punishment 
so far as I can see. I would recommend something like that for anyone 


under my tutelage (if I were a teacher) who commits, for example, my pet 
prohibition. A rule that is akin to the largest family of musical rules 
governing parallelism in voice-structuring: 

It is strictly forbidden to have anything to do with two or more 
points having fixed spatial interrelations. 

In one overriding sweep, this rule forbids practically the universal 
convention of ordinary cell animation, the “pan” of backgrounds. Dis- 
ney perfected the “multiplane pan” as a device for refining the illusion 
of realism and in so doing strengthened the static fixed interrelation 
of his hand-drawn pictures of the “real” world where foreground moves 
faster than middle ground, which in turn moves faster than background. 
All this is anathema in a conceptual space-time fluid universe where 
dynamic interrelations are the only constant; a nonordinary universe 
without gravity, scale or particularity, in contradistinction to the real 
world of observable Aristotelian fixity. Such a universe, my imagination 
could see in those illuminated mists. 

The same sweep of my prohibition engulfs the favorite kitbag of a 
breed of cineastes whose zooms, pans and trucks, preferably handheld, 
have persuaded proponents of the Brakhage School that somehow cam- 
era movement and montage allows their camera to look cinematically 
into abstraction, beyond the real world in which they and their camera 
are fixed quite solidly despite their own frenetic activity. This cinematic 
unorthodoxy, ( it has become a video technique as well) in their minds, 
instantly transforms an instrument, otherwise known for its recording 
and documentation functions, into an instrument for “poetry.”* Perhaps 
it may, but is does not open the camera eye to the universe of fluid 
dynamics about which I am at pains to define in this essay. 

In fact the camera eye, sensitive as it is, must be directed elsewhere 
than the “real world,” if indeed it is to be called upon to record a fluid 
universe such as my turbulent water particles on a misty night. Were it 
possible to intervene in that complex system of nature and direct those 
billions of water droplets along their smooth noncolliding, perfectly 
curvilinear trajectories, then one might point his camera at them. One 
might command, say, four thousand droplets out of the approximate forty 

*Annette Michelson, “Camera Lucida, Camera Obscura,” Artforum, v. 9, #5 (Jan. 1973), pp. 30-37. 

200 Appendix 


thousand in one cubic foot of fog. Command, upon a given signal from 
the cameraman, that these particles form into a perfect circle six inches 
in diameter. That happening would be a spectacle indeed. 

Short of calling down from the heavens a miracle, there is no other 
way to produce a pure geometrical wonder such as a six-inch space 
floating ringlet, just happening on cue. If there were a way, it would be 
an event several magnitudes superior to the Hollywood or Russian 
spectacular. It would require a cast not of thousands but forty thousand, 
all participants cooperating in an enterprise bound to put DeMille down 
a notch. 

And how dare I call a mere ringlet, a natural crown of jewels, called 
forth on cue, superior spectacle and greater than dramatized epics say, 
exodus of the Jews or the defeat of the Boyards? I derive this conceit 
from the argument of Socrates who had noble things to say about the 
nobility of geometry as the truest, and consequently the most beautiful. 
“They have that purity which makes for truth. They are philosophical.”* 
Also I derive this from Mondrian’s dynamic concepts, being a state of 
equilibrium: being, not dramatizing the spiritual and universal . 0 

Short of seeking in heaven this sort of thing, a way to do it by 
machine has been found very recently. A computer can deal with the 
coordinate positions of units in the hundreds of thousands. A computer 
which can cope with the tax data of a nation surely can cope with the 
coordinates of a mere cubic foot of free-floating droplets. It can, but it 
barely can. In fact, it can be done only by illusion and fakery such as the 
backstage of theatre. The numbers must be trimmed twentyfold or so. 
And the rules governing that free motion of particles in space must be 
synthesized, because this particular phenomena of nature happens to be 
one of the most obscure and quite unsolved problems of modem fluid 

Nevertheless the manipulation of particles in space has become the 
very foundation of my theoretical, philosophical and practical approach 
to computer art. Particles take on classifications as fields, conglomerates, 
clusters and transformational entities. Dynamically they generate and 

*Plato. Philehus, 51 c. 

oPiet Mondrian, Plastic Art and Pure Plastic Art, New York, 1945. 


release tension by periodic, harmonic structuring, akin to music; they 
generate, transform and dissolve matter according to Hoyle (the as- 
tronomer) * The transformational attribute is in accord with much more 
than Hoyle, since the arrangement of many points by either density or 
intensity constitutes the basis for both the television-scan and the 
photo-printing processes. If an array of points can be caused to arrange 
themselves into the aforementioned magical, geometrically beauteous 
ringlet, they can at another time, and with some more sophisticated con- 
trols, be caused to transform and group themselves into any image a 
camera can photograph. Thus, if we gain mastery over the manipulation 
of a plurality of points it follows that we may rule the universe of visual 
display, that is to say, a universe which then becomes an ethereal con- 
tinuum from pure geometry to pure representation of nature. Such is the 
power usually possessed by rulers of universes. That is not likely ever to 
be my power; but the history to date of slow progress in that direction is 
as follows. 

My brother made Yantra in the fifties. This film was the fruition of at 
least fifteen years of work, during which we both had made films by a 
succession of principles, each one momentarily considered by hypothesis 
to be the basic unit, the least common denominator, the atom, or the 
simple building block for an art of abstract film. Jim had found in Fred 
Hoyle’s hydrogen dynamic theories about the formation and transfor- 
mation of matter in the universe, a poetic metaphor in harmony with 
Vedantic Cosmologies 0 and, happily, applicable to our film researches. 
He started drawing dots by the tens of thousands. 

I, sharing his conviction, started looking for machinery, as is my 
personal disposition, to do so by a “better” method. The better method 
that resulted was an elaborate piece of machinery used by Jim to make 
Lapis which was a further exploration of dot-generated pattern that won 
prizes in the early sixties and continues to be a very popular film - by the 
standards of this kind of personal film - and a durable work of art. 

There were many reasons to support our faith that we had concep- 
tualized a root principle. However, anticipation that computer graphic 

*Fred Hoyle, Frontiers of Astronomy, New York, 1955. 

°Heinrich Zimmer, Myths and Symbols of Indian Art and Civilization, New York, 1963. 

202 Appendix 

systems should one day dovetail with this principle exactly was not part 
of our reasoning; nor could it have been. But the idea of a point which, 
treated dynamically, produces a line which in turn produces a surface 
which generates a solid is an idea to be found in Paul Klee’s A Pedagog- 
ical Sketch Book. It does truly anticipate computer graphic displays of 
the present-day vector scan principle to the extent that a dynamic point 
of light on the cathode screen is used to draw lines while close-packed 
lines generate surface.* 

Our search throughout the years since 1940 may be characterized as 
a quest to revolutionize the visual artist’s concepts of dynamism. If 
art in this century reveals a trend toward the evocation of the image of 
dynamism as exemplified by such movements as the Futurists, then we 
searched for a genuine art of movement. We were impressed by the 
number and frequency of traps and pitfalls by which, due to con- 
ventional thinking and graphic tradition, one’s best dynamic aspirations 
fell short, frozen and static in terms of film dynamics. The tradition of 
fluid dynamic time, which is second nature to the music composer, finds 
almost a mirrored reverse polarity within the tradition of the visual art- 
ist. Time and space, the talisman of this century for both the arts and the 
sciences, have actually received less than lip service from the plastic 
artist. Film art, the child of this century, we came to believe, and we still 
do, conceptualizes time and space with childlike awkwardness if at all. 

As a revelation, one need only sit at the piano and pick through any 
lento movement from a Mozart keyboard work, taking note of the timing 
markings and their effect, in order to realize the staggering grasp of 
temporal manipulation involved in musical composition. This disclosure, 
compared directly to cinema, induces one instantly to reflect that we 
have not even begun to understand metrical or rhythmic organizations of 
time in cinematic terms. 

Critics of conventional cinema often praise film editing, etc. by ap- 
plying musical superlatives. These critics I suggest might go back to the 
keyboard and ask themselves once again: is it really so? An argument 
can develop to the effect that modem musical conventions have almost 
abandoned metrical structure, to which the immediate response is that 

*Ivan E. Sutherland, “Computer Displays," Scientific American, v. 222, #12 (June, 1970), pp. 56-60. 


music of this century is hyperreactive to its own enormously successful 
past tradition. And, besides, popular music is still rigidly conventional 
and metrical. Then comes the clincher: is not cinema presumed to be a 
popular art? Conventional cinema is hardly the best proving ground for a 
musical avant-garde. 

In more ways than one, the plastic artists, as well as their brothers in 
the musical avant-garde, conduct a rearguard struggle against their own 
traditions (sometimes even last year’s tradition) with more vigor than 
they assault the “avant” itself; which points up the confusions surround- 
ing the whole concept of the tradition of the new.* For myself, strangely, 
I have felt a certain placid aloofness to the issue of avant-gardism, being 
engaged in an effort to establish some tradition where none has ever 
existed before. My brother and I were told at an impressionable age by 
no less an authority, in our minds, than Tony Smith, that we were more 
or less “over-the-hill” into the culture of the 21st century (ironically for 
us as far as recognition in our time was concerned). We needn’t concern 
ourselves manning cultural barricades, he advised, and we listened. 

Much as I admire Schoenberg’s gigantic transformation of the prevailing 
concepts of metrical structure, I felt not the slightest need to follow in 
his footsteps, as most composers have since. Instead I consider it quite 
the most urgent challenge of my film art to clarify the myriad difficulties 
that surround rhythmical structuring of visual patterns of motion. 

Any sensitive analysis of music shows that it is patterned motion that 
evokes emotion which is the content of music. Form and content happen 
to be two terms. What they denote in music is merely one thing, just as 
time and motion are attributes of one event. 

So it is with music. The overriding question remains undetermined, 
or underdetermined: (Here is a just evaluation of my films, I believe. 
They supply an affirmative answer to the question, but still the affirma- 
tion is underdetermined.) The question is: can motion, of a kind of ab- 
stract neoplasticism bear the burden of content in a visual cinema as it 
most obviously does in the realm of musical experience? The affirmative 
response to this question is, of course, the premise of my entire career. 

I will try to outline my theoretical understanding of this subject in 

*Renato Poggioli, The Theory of the Avant-Garde, Cambridge, 1968. 

204 Appendix 

the following paragraphs which are still laced with analogies to 
music which, I am aware, render as much weakness to my argument as 
strength. There are pitfalls to speculative discussion of this sort which 
attempts to speak about one art in terms of another. It draws the two 
together in ways, I am sure, which will one day seem outrageous. 

The content that we hear in music proceeds from the temporal ar- 
chitecture of pattern configurations which occupy a spatiotemporal envi- 
ronment whose dimensions are frequency, intensity and density. The key 
word, architecture, so readily befits the meaning of structure in music 
that it becomes a facile transfer device to shift one’s thinking from the 
aural to visual. But wait. Do not flip, toggle-wise, from Cathedrale 
Engloutir to Notre Dame de Chartres - from the black key arpeggios of 
Claude Debussy’s little tone poem to the still outlines of a cathedral 
situated a short distance west of Paris. Instead of transferring the mind 
from the ethereal fluidity of Debussy (he will have to do since I’m stuck 
with this metaphor) shift only the shorter distance from Debussy to my 
misty globules tumbling elegantly in space. In fact, if we could only 
color those crystal orbs in pastels, then Debussy, and the mists would be 
a look-alike. But I digress. 

If we can hold onto this transfer metaphor, then we must reflect. 
Reflect that this temporal architecture, these musical configurations start 
and stop, rise and fall, accelerate and slow to cesura. In the process there 
is an accumulation and discharge, renewal, gathering and release of 
tension. Layer upon layer of dynamic forces, all essentially rhythmic, 
harmonic and periodic, all contribute to subtle, sometimes tremendous, 
accumulations of tensional energy force. 

How can music do this to us? To quote Claude Levi-Strauss: 

music . . immobilizes the time which is passing so that when we 

listen to it we accede to a sort of immortality.”* Is this a clue? Now shift 
thinking from aural to visual. Is it not possible that I may succeed to 
hold your attention with fluid visual structures of periodic and rhythmic 
order to achieve the same accumulative effect? Visually to exercise the 
same power that the composer has to “immobilize time which is pas- 
sing?” Here is another quotation: “Music is temporal in the more exact 

: Octavio Paz, Claude Levi-Strauss: An Introduction, Ithaca, 1970, p. 61. 

sense that, for its ends, music enlists time as force.” And one more: 
“Music is temporal art in the special sense that in it time reveals itself to 

Now the power that music holds over us is not so simplistic nor 
trivial that it can be explained in a few quotations or a few paragraphs or 
for that matter, even a few books. All in all, I have only touched upon 
some aspects of the temporal and motion attributes of music and found 
them paralleling visual properties of my own computer explorations. 

That is perhaps all that I can do at this time and in this situation. 

The question asked a few paragraphs above, of course, can only be 
resolved in fact when motion within a visual framework does demon- 
strate that mystical power to extract content from time itself. I can dem- 
onstrate that by computer we can manipulate visual motion with a fluid- 
ity that rivals those miraculous mists. We can share with music, visually, 
her own exclusive environment of frequency, intensity and density . 0 

It can be said about music, in a special sense, that it does not exist at 
all - it only happens. In just ten years now the visual artist has acquired 
access to a similar domain wherein visual events can “happen” without 
prior or subsequent existence. This is, in its own way, Bucky Fuller’s 
knot: “patterned integrity” D which he ties in thin air. Thus we have at 
hand an art of spatiotemporal architectonics that lies outside the tra- 
ditions of the visual arts, or poetry, drama, dance, music - or cinema. 

* Victor Zuckerkandl, Sound and Symbol, New York, 1956, p.2()0. 

oB. Henisz-Dostert, Rel - An Information System for a Dynamic Environment, Pasadena, 1971. 
□ Hugh Kenner, Bucky, New York, 1973, p. 23. 

206 Appendix 


Democratizing the 

Audio-Visual Arts 1974 

In these program notes for the U.S.A. International Animation Festival, New York, January, 1974, 
John Whitney introduces the videodisc into his theoretical backpack, hailing it as the particular 
instrument through which visual music may be perfected and distributed. - W. M. 

Peter Goldmark contributed to contemporary speculations the intriguing 
idea that a video-storage home library would serve to decentralize and 
democratize the U.S. television landscape which is culturally deprived 
because of commercial obligations to the mass marketplace. Certainly 
since his remarks, if not before, all home video marketing projections 
have been conceived as a kind of enterprise resembling book or record 
publishing. However, your local home video record store at the outset 
will be stocked with very little to compare in value even with median 
quality literature or music. 

It should be more obvious than it is that a durable art, worthy of that 
classification, worthy of buying for the home and presumably for view- 
ing over and over, will be in short supply. While it is true that a phono- 
graph album of Beethoven Quartets is not quite a household common- 
place, classical records do sell in large numbers. Classical European 
music and music of other cultures and epochs appeal in such a way as to 
encourage occasional or frequent replay. It would seem - and this point 
is most frequently overlooked - that the kind of appeal which encour- 
ages replay is the strongest inducement to sell any disk into the home. 
Music is loved, hence, it sells, because of that appeal. The great wonder 
of this is repeatability. Music has it. Jokes do not. Few movies do. What 
TV shows do? Count them on your fingers. There is only an obtuse 
relationship between “classic” and repeatability. Still the very word 

“classic” is a common label for that which has withstood the test of time; 
i.e. repeatability. The greatest wonder of all is Muzak: the repetition of 
the familiar gone to seed. There’s repeatability for you! Match if you 
can this daily sustenance we derive from music, good or bad, against any 
other art. 

As soon as the record industry came into being, there was at hand 
and available for the taking, ready-made, an enormous backlog of music 
- some six or eight centuries worth. And there was a diverse market of 
tastes for the product. The point is that most extant television or cinema 
is patently not so designed nor does it merit repetition. Thus, there is 
scarcely a “backlog” for the videodisc publisher to draw upon, corpo- 
rate investors optimism on this point notwithstanding. 

It is wrong to believe that an industry very well capable of producing 
such an invention as the new videodisc mechanism is in any way by 
itself equal to the task of producing a culturally valid, audio-equal-to- 
visual library which can compare with our global musical inheritance. 
That musical tradition is quite literally an accrual which derives from 
generations of extraordinary individual and collective invention. 

It would be encouraging to think that an entirely new cultural tradi- 
tion, an art created fresh for the videodisc, might spring forth in the 
next ten years. Considering the fantastic interest and random turmoil in 
student filmmaking and computer graphics and computer music, which I 
have seen throughout the United States, Japan, and Europe, something 
like a renascence may be brewing in what appears to be the present 
so-called underground counter culture. If some sort of renascent culture 
is in the making, the universities should and will play a role in permit- 
ting this to happen. The computer is the most significant instrumentation 
involved, and at present it is accessible generally only at universities. 

Computer technology possesses the most exciting possibilities yet to 
utilize the fantastic potential of video color phosphores. A point that is 
frequently overlooked is that the home color video system is potentially 
the greatest color invention of all time, far surpassing any application of 
pigments or dyes. What a “bright future” indeed, if we can conceive an 
art of spatio-temporal architectonics, a color, motion, visual double to 
music, emerging at this most propitious moment for the videodisc; a 
videodisc with eye-and-ear-gratifying repeatability. 

208 Appendix 

Industries, especially those which have profited most by a kind of 
mining (as well as frequent pollution) of our cultural resources, might do 
well to acknowledge their responsibility to sponsor research directed at 
creating a new body of knowledge to bring about a fresh color-motion- 
sound art for the videodisc. 

One might observe that university and industry alike have their role 
to play in the contemporary cultural environment and note, too, it is an 
environment which is perennially threatened by the Muzaks of commer- 
cial pollution. Both institutions may find self-interest served in assuming 
responsibility toward reordering this condition of modem life no less 
than reordering the world around physical environment. 

There is at present more sponsored research at experimental video- 
centers around the world. So one must spell out the distinction between 
video and computer. Computer technology and video have existed as 
separate hardware domains, but as raster-scan techniques are being 
applied more and more to computer displays, the fields are merging. 
Nevertheless, the fundamental design problem of a new visual double to 
music is to deal with graphic structure on a deep level as with the pat- 
terned structure of music. Video techniques cannot cope with these 
problems; only computer software does. Video synthesizers fail at the 
point where the computer-generated image begins; where pattern is the 
true product of deep structure, not a mere video analog frequency 

There is a great need for exploratory study of motion-design struc- 
ture at the computer level, a need to reset priorities which are at present 
inverted. Video control of transformations and color is already being 
explored and will provide orchestration in the form of color and textural 
enrichment to basic design when it flows innately from deep structure. 

To summarize: the videodisc is the most likely among the contenders 
for the home aural-visual record library. Aside from its value as a 
reference source, this library will be stocked with a world of pleasures 
that will command our responses again and again - else who needs a 
library? Today, music is our only model for this kind of enjoyment. 
Examine in depth the properties of music; then an alert observer in these 
times will discover that audio and visual outputs of the computer are the 
key to that garden of future delights. 



Computational Periodics 1975 

John Whitney coined the term “computational periodics" in response to a questionnaire Ruth 
Leavitt circulated in preparing her anthology Artist and Computer. He felt it was too pompous or 
unwieldy right from the start, but it was the best name available at that time. The crisp statement is 
still interesting to see the alternate versions and steps one takes on the way to a better solution. -W.M. 

We may assume that a time will come when that which I am about to 
describe will name itself, but for now: ‘computational periodics’ is a 
propositional and tentative term which may help to designate a new 
unified field for a heterodimensional art, a field whose special dimen- 
sion is time, and thus an art that is temporal like music, but further, 
spatio-temporal, an art whose time has come because of computer 
technology and an art which could not exist before the computer. Even 
though this art will be found in the notebooks of Leonardo and has been 
in the collective imagination, like the flying machine, since his epoch it 
was a technological impossibility until the development of computer 

Rhythm, meter, frequency, tonality and intensity are the periodic 
parameters of music. There is a similar group of parameters that set forth 
a picture domain as valid and fertile as the counterpoised domain of 
sound. This visual domain is defined by parameters which are also 
periodic. ‘Computational periodics’ then is a new term which is needed 
to identify and distinguish this multidimensional art for eye and ear that 
resides exclusively within computer technology. For notwithstanding 
man’s historic efforts to bridge the two worlds of music and art through 
dance and theatre, the computer is his first instrument that can integrate 
and manipulate image and sound in a way that is as valid for visual, as it 
is for aural, perception. 

210 Appendix 

That rare talent of the composer to create music which is self sus- 
taining, i.e., the power of music to capture and hold our attention, is a 
sophisticated and subtle art which has been the exclusive gift of only a 
few composers in each of many past generations. It was a pedagogic 
skill, however, that a pupil might learn, provided he was himself pos- 
sessed with latent genius. In this century all that pedagogy has been 
reduced to anxious uncertainty. The harmonic and metric traditions, for 
one thing, seem to be untranslatable into the new periodic resources that 
abound in computer technology. The body of knowledge that resulted, by 
the nineteenth century, in musical works of ponderous scale and propor- 
tion, is a lost art. By the standards of the Baroque era the present has 
retrogressed to infantilism. 

The new composer, and the visual artist who may aspire to deal with 
teleonomic structures, could as well be the child of some early dark age. 
The Twentieth Century began with technology and has reaped a whirl- 
wind of cultural dislocations and amnesia. Materials and forms and 
attitudes are so altered that past traditions are generally moribund. 

Also from the point of view that this Century is but an episode in the 
life of human culture, it is clear that more paraphernalia of this epoch 
may be cast off than will survive into the next. Yet surely the computer 
will not. A solid state image storage system will replace the silver chem- 
ical ribbon and cinema will eventually be interred in the archival museum. 
But computer and computer graphics bring to mind the kind of tools that 
may characterize an age succeeding this century’s age of the machine. 

The computer is the coequal of the entire repertoire of musical 
instrumentation and heir to that domain of musical sound. At the same 
time, the computer is the ultimate kinetic image generative instrument. 
The kinetic image is in truth the creation of computer graphics since the 
cine or television is but a recording device and the hand-drawn image of 
motion is but a cartoon of motion. 

Tatlin, Rodchenko, Gabo, Moholy-Nagy, Fontana, Duchamp, Kan- 
dinsky, Mondrian, Pollock and twice that many more artists of this cen- 
tury testify to the drive toward dynamic organization of energy and force 
in art, and toward ephemeralization of the art object in painting and 
sculpture. The past decade has seen that direction lead many artists to 
cinema, exotic technology and experiments with cybernetics. Yet it has 

passed generally unnoticed that this preoccupation of the last one 
hundred years has been toward a musicalization of visual art. For the 
urge to produce abstract architectonic structures that possess fluid trans- 
formability in visual space is no less than a grand aspiration toward 
music’s double in the visible world. It is as a preoccupation with art in 
this exclusive sense that we may use the term computational periodics. 

212 Appendix 



Digital Pyrotechnics 1977 

This, the final form of an article that had appeared in Interface and Beyond Baroque magazines, 
was delivered at the First Computer Faire and published in their proceedings, 1977. Here John 
Whitney formulates and illustrates his full-blown theory of visual harmonies. - W. M. 


Harmonic forces give shape to our experience of past and future. This is the dramatic essence of 
musical experience. It is why the composer, more or less intuitively, has manipulated the network of 
harmonic relationships of all musical scales for as long as music itself has existed. Evidence is 
accumulating to substantiate the need for much further study of harmonic phenomena. Because 
there is reason to believe - as I do - that the tensional charge and discharge - the expectations 
evoked and thence fulfilled by tonic structures in music - is a direct product of the mathematics of 
harmonic order. I further believe that the same possibilities exist in the skillful design of harmonic 
pattern for visual perception. Therefore, I am exploring harmonics designed for eye instead of ear. It 
is interesting to note that the very creation of harmonic pattern had been altogether inconceivable 
until a very recent time when computer graphics eventually and slowly became available to the 
visual artist. 

I’d like to show how well computer graphics and harmonic pattern are 
suited for each other. And show how useful this compatibility can be for 
employing the computer to charm the eye. 

To begin, let’s consider that manner by which composers for cen- 
turies have used harmonic “force” to attract and hold the attention and 
otherwise charm the ear. Then we will examine a similar form of visual 
“force” which has been made possible by computer graphics. 

At the outset we know the musician’s aural spectrum to be an undif- 
ferentiated and continuous spread of frequencies, say from twenty to 
twenty thousand cycles. Yet this apparently homogeneous continuum is 
not continuous at all. Harmonic relationships interactively transfigure 
this spectrum. Harmonic phenomena create discontinuities, as nodules of 
tension, anticipation, and resolution deform this otherwise smooth con- 
tinuum. Whole number, or harmonic nodes, scattered throughout the 


spectrum create order/disorder proclivities: centers of emotional focus 
which distort an otherwise smoothly ascending texture. In fact, sounding 
tones over the span of just one octave persuades the ear that we are 
nearer a return back to the start than we are advanced along any straight 
line of upward continuous ascension. 

I want to suggest that it is this particular discontinuity, not really any 
other quality of the audio spectrum, that constitutes the raw material of 
the composer’s art. Not pitch, texture, rhythm, and meter. Not frequency, 
intensity, and density, as most 20th-century modernists have us believe. 

That is to say, no matter how we divide the spectrum into steps we 
find a hierarchy of perceptual values that distinctly rank each step. It is 
the composer’s cunning, or intuition, or even mindless exploitation of 
this hierarchy that is the primary source of rhythmic vitality and emo- 
tional content of music. The composer, however, must cooperate with 
these natural harmonic forces, or see his strategies defused by them. He 
cannot work his will against, nor exercise insensitivity to the charge and 
discharge. He cannot escape the dominion of the gravitational force of 
harmonic moment. 

Furthermore, as a corollary to all the above, a visual domain of har- 
monic consequence has become accessible through computer graphics. 
With the graphical display rooted upon coordinate mathematics it is only 
natural that a great variety of periodic interference patterns can be pro- 
duced. The motive now exists for the artist composer to discover his 
way into this diverse domain of dynamic visual form structured out of 
two-and three-dimensional harmonic periodicity. This domain abounds 
with tonic centers of focus as in music. And this domain will render up 
an equivalent rhythmic and emotional content as in music. I think we 
will soon see the artist learn to cooperate anew with natural harmonic 
forces in hitherto unexplored visual territory. 

In truth, harmonic forces give shape to past and future. Yet harmonic 
force is not all that mysterious. We can speculate why the sound of “ti” 
urges us on to “do.” Significantly a good diagram for the perceptual 
dynamics is found. (See pp. 70-71 and the flipbook.) 

It is characteristic of harmonic phenomena, visual, aural, or otherwise, 
to show this kind of pattern. As patterns go, the illustration is perhaps 
explicit in a way that is even more obvious than the aural, leading-tone 

214 Appendix 

effect of “ti” upon “do.” 

Eye and ear, each in its own unique manner, experiences the 
dynamics of this kind of pattern as an event in time - as punctuation. 
Especially as an event of arrival or departure. When we arrive at “do,” 
the octave above the tonic “do,” we hear that rudimentary relationship 
with a particular infallibility. If we sample ascending steps of the scale, 
the ear is bound to sense the final event of arrival just as the eye can see 
arrival and departure relationships in the illustration. I might add that 
these relationships are many times more explicit when seen as a motion 
picture sequence. 

In terms of visual perception, vaguely a corollary to aural responses, 
we have here a phenomena of hierarchical distribution and classification 
of elements into an array in which all are ranked according to some 
perceptual scale of complexity. 

No need to argue which pattern is more “consonant” than another, 
for generating dynamic patterns here is an order/disorder principle, or a 
consonant/dissonant principle, to work with. It is a principle which can 
be exploited in more ways than one might expect to give meaningful 
order to temporal development. The principle becomes a composer’s 
valid strategy - probably the first strategy to be so defined and applied in 
the brief history of the art of the computer graphics. 

Finally, it is worth remarking that the illustration for this article 
could not be created by a conventional hand-drawing technique - at least 
that would be quite difficult. Moreover, it would be impossible to hand- 
animate the film from which the illustration was derived. Many of these 
films required thousands of drawings while the computation for plotting 
is staggering. Thus the computer is the ultimate and the only tool for 
visualizing the dynamic world of harmonic functions. This may serve to 
illustrate the point that this new world of visual art cannot be confused 
with any previous traditional forms. (See Art International , Vol. XV/7, 
September 20, 1971, or reprint on pp. 190-97, appendix.) 

It should be of particular interest to realize that computer graphics, 
this 15-year-old infant, is patently capable of bringing forth a totally 
different kind of visual experience as unique and riotously enjoyable as 
the Chinese, pre-Christian invention of fireworks. 


Film Music 1977 

Roy Prendergast's interview with John Whitney for his book Film Music juxtaposes the improvisa- 
tional style of the early oil-wipe films with the issue of control and balance in the mature computer 
film Permutations. Thus he brings us ideologically full circle: the intuitive, handmade film de- 
pending on “inspiration” is replaced by a conscious, instrumented film depending on sensitive, 
disciplined manipulation of natural harmonic laws. - W. M. 

Work with animated sound has not been carried significantly further (if 
that is indeed possible) in recent years and one finds filmmakers like 
John Whitney going back to traditional music or onward into computer 
technology. Whitney’s film Matrix , for instance, uses some of the piano 
music of Antonio Soler. Whitney has, however, carried forward his con- 
cepts concerning similarities between the visual and aural arts. “At the 
outset the similarities obtain only a visual world that is completely 
dynamic,’’ he emphasizes. 

During the late 1940s Whitney was awarded a Guggenheim Fellow- 
ship for two years. “During that time, [I] developed some spontaneous 
real-time animation techniques. I could manipulate paper cutouts to 
music. I was working with jazz - music that had no pretentions and none 
of the complexity and subtlety of structure of traditional Western art 
music. I was finding ways to satisfy my own concepts regarding the 
dynamics of visual motion by ways that avoided the tedium, stasis, and 
the restrictions that you have with any cell animation or any conven- 
tional techniques. I was manipulating cutouts and working with fluids, 
very much as they were later to be used in the light shows. I had an 
oil bath on a level tray with the light below. I put dye into the oil until 
it was deep red, and then used red-blind film in the camera. With my 
finger or with a stylus, I could draw on this thin surface of oil; drawing 

216 Appendix 

would push the oil away and the light would shine through so I could 
draw calligraphic, linear sequences very freely; and by selecting the 
weight and thickness of the oil, I could control the rate at which the line 
would erase itself, so that it was constantly erasing with a constantly 
fresh surface to draw on — the ultimate tabula rasa. I was doing that 
and manipulating paper cutouts, and then doing a lot of direct etching 
on film as McLaren had done. I made, during that time, half a dozen 
little films to classic jazz recordings such as Will Bradley's. 

“At that time I was building much of my own equipment including a 
selsyn interlock system. The sound track was previously recorded, and it 
could be run backward and forward in interlock with the camera. The 
only cue I had as to my progress in making a film was what I could hear 
along the soundtrack; so I would rehearse two or three riffs of a piece, 
plan it more or less spontaneously right there and then shoot it; then 
back the film up to work another section or over the same section, or 
make a superimposure over that. Accumulatively, I was painting a com- 
plex moving image on film. I’d shoot complete three-minute films in one 
afternoon’s work.” 

The important thing about Whitney’s work in this area was that it 
pointed to a kind of spontaneous performance - much like improvisation 
in music. Whitney points out that this system “pointed to something 
else: to give up film techniques entirely and begin to explore video tech- 
niques. I made a proposal in the early fifties at UCLA that we set up an 
arrangement with six or eight video cameras and six or eight performers 
using these various manipulation techniques - the cameras were to be 
mixed electronically - then we’d perform a real-time graphic experience 
as an ensemble. The very idea of an ensemble to ‘perform’ a visual art is 
quite valid. I think and hope it will happen some day.” 

In a film entitled Permutations , Whitney has consciously carried 
the consonance-dissonance (relaxation-tension) concept of music into 
the visual arts through the imaginative use of computers. Speaking 
of the dots that create the graphics of the film, Whitney points up the 
similarities of the effect, created by the graphic figures, to some of the 
tensional effects created by music. Whitney says: “Every one of the 
points in Permutations is moving at a different rate and moving in an 
independent direction in accord with natural laws as valid as Pythagoras’s 

while moving within their circular field. Their action produces a phe- 
nomenon which is more or less equivalent to musical harmonics. When 
the dots reach certain numerical (harmonic) relationships with other 
parameters in the equation, they form elementary many-lobed figures. 
Then they go off into a nonsimple numerical relationship and appear 
to be random again. I think of this as an order-disorder phenomenon 
that suggests the harmony-dissonance effect of music. Graphically, as a 
static illustration in a book, it may not be as striking as it is to perceive 
the dynamics of the experience on film.” 

Whitney does, however, see the inherent fallacy of trying to invent a 
technology that would produce a musical counterpart to graphics or vice 
versa. For him, “music is sort of a narrow road I’d like to try to steer my 
own way through. I don’t want to go in either of two directions. For 
example, I don’t want to be mechanistic about art. And yet I’d like to 
begin to work with parallels which abound within the computer system 
for sound and image. Let me add, I am not composing music right now 
simply because I have my hands full with what I’m doing about the 
graphic formal problems.” 

Whitney rightly observes that creating some sort of musical score 
that would simultaneously generate a graphic countervoice would be 
“just as arbitrary to do as to invent a machine whereby I might com- 
pose the piano part while the machine does the violin part of a duo 
musical work. Yet all in all the great music of the future may well be 

In his more recent films Whitney has been trying to achieve the same 
kind of control that the composer has with music. I see the composer as 
an intuitive architect creating and manipulating aural material which has 
the effect of producing distinct feeling states on the listener. However, 
Whitney “agrees with Stravinsky that the problem of music is essen- 
tially one of architecture. A kind of spatial architecture. The emotional 
response is solely a by-product or a natural, inevitable development 
from that.” 

Whitney draws this concept into his film work, believing that “it is 
possible to create a spatial architecture that the eye can perceive and that 
has the same kind of potential for emotive consequences as the most 
profound music.” 

218 Appendix 

Whitney also feels that he is gaining more and more control over the 
effects he wishes to create. He says: “I do have a cautious, unfolding 
confidence in being able to predict effects that I know will affect you. 
But one technical development that is urgently necessary is production 
in real time. I think as soon as we have computer graphic systems that 
produce the kind of fluidity I’m presently able to generate, being gener- 
ated in real time, then we’re going to be able to achieve something 
fantastic Then we’re going to really begin to make exciting film ex- 

periences. And I’m sure these developments will have revolutionary 
consequences for the composer and musical audiences though all this 
may be inconceivable to us right now. For example, we do not even 
clearly understand the relationships between the spontaneous and the 
cautious, the contemplative and the planned in musical art.” 

Whitney sees another relationship between the graphic structure of 
his film Permutations and musical structure: “Notice that in music, fre- 
quently the first hearing of a piece of music is not transparent to you. In 
fact, with better music, often enough (it is a truism), if you’re not totally 
familiar with the composer, the sections that you’ll like most in the long 
run will be those which are hardest for you to appreciate upon the first 
hearing. I would argue that, with my recent films there is this quality: if 
you see a film again and again you will discover more structure. It will 
become more revealed to you that the whole work is a structure possess- 
ing its own kind of pattern integrity. It is unfortunate that our film 
viewing conventions do not permit the repetition we allow with music.” 
As advanced and sophisticated as Whitney’s theories and films are, 
he clearly perceives that his art is, in many ways, still in an embryonic 
stage. He asks: “What if eight tones of the musical scale hadn’t been 
discovered yet? What if our composers had only four tones to work 
with? And. . . what if the pianist had to wait twelve hours before he 
could hear the keys he had played? And, on the other hand, what if we 
could buy and play in our home these new visual compositions as freely 
as we play music recordings? Probably we will soon. And I expect we’ll 
soon find the missing notes.” 


I. Articles by John Whitney, and 
Articles discussing John Whitney. 

“The Art of Motion Graphics," Computing Re- 
port, v.5, #2 (March, 1969), pp. 10-13. 

Association of Computing Machinery. Experi- 
ments in Motion Graphics. IBM Monograph 
(Fall, 1969). 

Bawden, Liz-Anne, ed. Oxford Companion to 
Film. New York: Oxford, 1976. 

Becker, Leon. “Synthetic Sound and Abstract 
Image," Hollywood Quarterly [later Film 
Quarterly ], v. 1, #1 (Oct., 1945), pp. 95-96. 

Brick, Richard. “John Whitney Interview, 
Conducted by Richard Brick, 12/30/69," 
Film Culture #53-54-55 (Spring, 1972), 
pp. 39-73. Bibliography and Filmography, 
pp. 80-83. 

Citron, Jack and John Whitney. “CAMP - com- 
puter assisted movie production," Proceed- 
ings of the Fall Joint Computer Conference, 
San Francsco, 1968, pp. 1299-1305. 

Clarke, Sheila. “Computer Turns Director. . . an 
Interview with John Whitney,” Kilobaud #7 
(July, 1977), pp. 34-40. 

Claus, Jurgen. “Die Computerfilme von John 
Whitney," in Expansion Der Kunst. Rein- 
bek, 1970. 

Curtis, David. Experimental Cinema; a Fifty- 
year Evolution. London: Studio-Vista, 1971. 

Curtis, David and Richard Francis, eds. Film as 
Film: Formal Experiment in Film, 1910— 
1975. London: Hayward Gallery, 1979. 

Davis, Douglas. Art and the Future: A 

History/Prophecy of the Collaboration be- 

tween Science, Technology and Art. New 
York: Praeger, 1973. pp. 98-99. 

Dwoskin, Steve. Film Is: The International Free 
Cinema. New York: Overlook, 1975. 

Franke, Herbert W. Computer Graphics, 
Computer Art. New York: Phaidon, 1971. 
pp. 93-97. 

Hein, Birgit and Wulf Herzogenrath, eds. Film 
als Film: 1910 bis Heute. Cologne: Kol- 
nischer Kunstverein, 1978. 

Hein, Birgit. Film im Underground. Frankfurt: 
Ullstein, 1971. 

Lamont, Austin. “Interview with John Whitney 
by Austin Lamont,” Film Comment, v.6, #3 
(Fall, 1970), pp. 28-33. 

Langsner, Jules. “Kinetics in L.A.," Art in 
America, v.60, #3 (May- June, 1967), 
pp. 107-109. 

Lawder, D. Standish. The Cubist Cinema. New 
York, New York University Press, 1975. 

LeGrice, Malcolm. Abstract Film and Beyond. 
Cambridge: MIT, 1977. 

Leyda, Jay. “Exploration of New Film Tech- 
niques," A rt and Architecture, v.65 (Dec., 
1945), pp. 38-39 & 56. 

“Luminous Art of the Computer," Life, v.65, 
#19 (Nov. 8, 1968), pp. 52-58. 

Manvell, Roger, ed. Experiment in the Film. 
London: Grey Walls, 1949. pp. 140-141. 

Moritz, William. “Beyond ‘Abstract' 

Criticism,” Film Quarterly, v.31, #3 
(Spring, 1978), pp. 29-39'. 

220 Bibliography 

Prendergast, Roy M. Film Music: A Neglected 
Art. New York: Norton, 1977. pp. 193-197. 

Renan, Sheldon. An Introduction to the 

American Underground Film. New York: 
Dutton, 1967. 

Rondolino, Gianni. Storia del Cinema 
D'Animazione. Turin: Einaudi, 1974. 
pp. 339-347. 

Russett, Robert and Cecile Starr, eds. Experi- 
mental Animation: an Illustrated Anthology. 
New York: Van Nostrand, 1976. 

Scheugl, Hans, and Ernst Schmidt Jr. Fine 
Subgeschichte des Films: Lexicon des 
Avant garde - , Experimental - und Under- 
groundfilms. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1974. 

2 vols. 

Sitney, P. Adams, ed. The Avant-Garde Film: a 
Reader of Theory and Criticism. New York 
University Press, 1978. [reprint of “Audio- 
Visual Music" from Art in Cinema on 
pp. 83-86] 

Sitney, P. Adams. Visionary Film; second edi- 
tion. New York: Oxford U.P, 1979. 

Vogel, Amos. Film as a Subversive Art. New 
York: Random, 1974. p. 1L5. 

Whitney, James A. and John H. Whitney. 

“Audio-Visual Music" and “Film Notes on 
Five Film Exercises" in Stauffacher, Frank, 
ed. Art in Cinema. San Francisco Museum 
of Art, 1947. pp. 31-34 and pp. 60-61. Re- 
printed by Arno, 1968. 

. “Audio-Visual Music: Color Music - 
Abstract Film," Arts and Architecture, v.61 
(Dec., 1944), pp. 28-29 & 42. 

. “Audio-Visual Music," Circle #10 

(Summer, 1948), pp. 4-10. [same text as Art 
in Cinema catalogue, but different illus- 

Whitney, John H. “An Abstract Film-maker's 
View of the Belgium Experimental Film 
Competition (1963) and All," Film Culture 
#37 (Summer, 1965), pp. 24-26. 

. “A.S.I.D. Talk - Design Conference, 
Catalina, 1962," Film Culture #37 (Sum- 
mer, 1965), pp. 21-24. 

. “Animation Mechanisms," American 

Cinematographer, v.52 #1 (Jan., 1971), 
pp. 26-31. 

“Back to Baroque," Interface, v.l, #5 

(April, 1976), pp. 43-44. 

“Bewegungsbilder und elektronische 

Musik," die Reihe: Information iiber serielle 
Musik, #7: Form - Raum. Vienna: Univer- 
sal, 1960. pp. 62-72. 

“Computational Periodics," in Leavitt, 

Ruth, ed. Artist and Computer. New York: 
Harmony, 1976. p. 80. 

“A Computer Art for the Video Picture 

Wall," Art International, v.15, #7 (Sept. 20, 
1971), pp. 35-38. 

“Culture for Computers," Interface, v.l, 

#2 (Jan., 1976), p. 51. 

“Democratizing the Audio-Visual Arts," 

Program Notes from the U.S.A. Interna- 
tional Animation Festival, New York, 
January, 1974. 

“Digital Pyrotechnics: The Computer in 

Visual Arts," First Computer Faire Pro- 
ceedings, San Francisco, 1977. pp. 14-16. 

“Discussion with John Whitney Re- 
corded at the 1969 Flaherty Film Seminar, 
Standish Lawder, Moderator,” Film Com- 
ment, v.6, #3 (Fall, 1970), pp. 34-38. 

. “Excerpts from a Talk Given at Califor- 
nia Institute of Technology - 3/21/68," Film 
Culture #53-54-55 (Spring, 1972), pp. 

. “Fireworks: Ancient and Modern,” 

Interface, v.l, #6 (May, 1976), pp. 30-33 +. 
[early version of “Digital Pyrotechnics”]. 

“Fireworks: Ancient and Modern," Be- 
yond Baroque [new], v.8, #3 (May, 1977), 
pp. 12-13. [early version of “Digital 

“Further Reflections of a Culture Sav- 
age,” Interface, v.l, #3 (Feb., 1976), p. 

“John Whitney at CalTech," Survey #5: 

Experiments in Art and Technology, Los 
Angeles (Summer, 1970), pp. 8-9. 

“Moving Pictures and Electronic 

Music," die Reihe, #7: Form - Space. Bryn 
Mawr: Presser, 1965. pp. 61-71. [this text 
was translated back into English from a 
German translation of an English original 
(which appears in the Appendix to this 

“Music Space - Computer Time,” Los 

Angeles Institute of Contemporary Arts 
Journal #15 (July- Aug., 1977), pp. 34-36. 


“Notes on Permutations and Matrix," 

Film Culture #53-54-55 (Spring, 1972), 
pp. 78-80. 

“On Order and Disorder," lecture deliv- 
ered at the 17th International Design Con- 
ference at Aspen, Colorado, 1967. Published 
in the Proceedings of the Conference, and 
reprinted in the Appendix of this book. 

“ Permutations ," in Reichardt, Jasia, ed. 

Cybernetic Serendipity (a Studio Interna- 
tional Special Issue). New York: Praeger, 
1968. p. 65. 

“The Raw and the Cooked Sit and 

Dance or Dance and Sit," Interface, v.l, #4 
(March, 1976), pp. 29-31. [reprint of the 
“A.S.I.D. Talk") 

. “Reflections on Art, Page #21 (March, 

1972), p. 4. [Bulletin of the Computer Arts 
Society, London] 

. Text of an Address to the Computer Arts 

Society of America, delivered at Cranbrook 
Art Academy, Michigan, May, 1973. Pub- 
lished in the Appendix to this book. 

. “There Isn't Even a Name for It," Page 
#24 (July, 1972), p. 1. 

Youngblood, Gene. Expanded Cinema. New 
York: Dutton, 1970. 

II. General References 

Albers, Josef. Interaction of Color. New Haven: 
Yale, 1971. 

Allen W. D. Philosophies of Music History: A 
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Ashton, Dore. A Fable of Modern Art. London: 
Thames & Hudson, 1980. 

Battcock, Gregory, ed. The New American 
Cinema: a Critical Anthology. New York: 
Dutton, 1967. 

Bernstein, Leonard. The Unanswered Question: 
Six Talks at Harvard. Cambridge: Harvard 
U.P., 1976. 

Bayer, Herbert and Walter Gropius and Ise 
Gropius, eds. Bauhaus, 1919-1928. New 
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Brockman, John and Edward Rosenfeld. Real 
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Burnham, Jack. Beyond Modern Sculpture: The 
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Sculpture of This Century. New York: 
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The Structure of Art. New York: Brazil- 
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Cage, John. Silence. Cambridge, M.I.T., 1966. 

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Chipp, Herschel B., ed. Theories of Modern 
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Chomsky, Noam. Language and Mind. New 
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Dewey, John. Art as Experience. New York: 
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Henisz-Dostert, B. “REL- An Information Sys- 
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Herbert, Robert L., ed. Modern Artists on Art; 
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Hoberman, J. “The Cinema of Structure," 
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Hofstadter, Douglas R. Godel, Escher, Bach: An 
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Hoyle, Sir Fred. Frontiers of Astronomy. New 
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Huang, Al. Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain. 

222 Bibliography 

Moab, Utah: Real People, 1973. 

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Janis, Harriet and Sidney Janis. “Marcel 

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Kandinsky, Wassily. Concerning the Spiritual in 
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Kepes, Gyorgy. The New Landscape. Chicago: 
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Malevich, Kasimir. The Non-Objective World. 
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Michelson, Annette. "Camera Lucida, Camera 
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Ovcry, Paul. Kandinsky: The Language of the 
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Paz, Octavio. Claude Levi-Strauss: An Introduc- 
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Plato. Philebus: Plato's Examination of Plea- 
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Poggioli, Renato. Theory of the Avant-Garde. 
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Popper, Frank. Origins and Development 
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Rameau, Jean Philippe. Treatise on Harmony ; 
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Rcichardt, Jasia, ed. Cybernetic Serendipity: 

The Computer and the Arts. (A Studio 

International Special Issue). New York: 
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Cybernetics: Art and Ideas. New York 
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Rickey, George. Constructivism - Origins and 
Evolution. New York: Braziller, 1967. 

Rosenberg, Harold. The De-Definition of Art: 
Action Art to Pop to Earthworks. New York: 
Horizon, 1972. 

Rotzler, Willy. Constructive Concepts: a History 
of Constructive Art from Cubism to the 
Present. New York: Rizzoli, 1977. 

Rubin, William S. Dada, Surrealism, and Their 
Heritage. New York: Museum of Modern 
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Russctt, Robert and Cecilc Starr, eds. Experi- 
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Santayana, George. The Sense of Beauty. New 
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Senechal, Marjorie and George Fleck, eds. 
Patterns of Symmetry. Amherst: U of Mas- 
sachusetts, 1977. 

Spencer Brown, G. Laws of Form. New York, 
Julian, 1972. 

Stauffacher, Frank, ed. Art in Cinema: A 
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Thayer, Alexander Wheelock. Life of Beethoven, 
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Tomkins, Calvin. The Bride and the Bachelors: 
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Tuchman, Maurice, cd. Report on the Art and 
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Weizenbaum, Joseph. Computer Power and 
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Youngblood, Gene. Expanded Cinema. New 
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Zimmer, Heinrich. Myths and Symbols of Indian 
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Zuckerkandl, Victor. Man the Musician. (Bol- 
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Zukav, Gary. The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An 
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224 Bibliography 

John Whitney Filmography 

Untitled film of lunar eclipse (1939), 5 min., 
color, silent [8mm]. 

Twenty-Four Variations (with brother James 
Whitney, 1939-40), 5 min., color, silent, 

Three untitled films (with brother James 

Whitney, 1940-42), 5 min. each, color, silent, 

Film Exercise #1 (with James Whitney, 1943), 

5 min., color, sound: synthesized pendulum 

Film Exercises #2 and #2 (with James Whitney, 
1944), 4 min., color, sound: synthesized 
pendulum music. 

Film Exercise # 4 (with James Whitney, 1944), 

7 min., color, sound: synthesized pendulum 

Film Exercise #5 (with James Whitney, 1944), 

5 min., color, sound: synthesized pendulum 

Celery Stalks at Midnight (oil-wipe technique, 
ca. 1952), 3 min., color, sound: Will Bradley. 

Flat House (oil-wipe technique, ca. 1952), 3 min., 
color, sound: Dizzy Gillespie. 

Mozart Rondo (oil-wipe technique, ca. 1952), 

3 min. color, sound: Mozart's “Rondo a la 

Old Macdonald Had a Farm (oil-wipe tech- 
nique, ca. 1952), 3 min., color, sound: 
children's song. 

Chimes Blues (oil-wipe technique, ca. 1952), 3 
min., black-and-white, sound: Turk Murphy. 

Third Man Theme (oil-wipe technique, ca. 

1952), 3 min., black-and-white, zither 
sound. Anton Karas. 

Down Home Rag (oil-wipe technique, ca. 1952), 

3 min., black-and-white, sound: Red Nichols. 

Egyptian Fantasy (oil-wipe technique, ca. 1952), 
3 min., black-and-white, sound: Sidney 

/ Want to Linger (oil-wipe technique, ca. 1952), 

3 min., black-and-white, Pete Daily. 

Drums West (oil-wipe technique, ca. 1952), 

3 min., black-and-white, sound: Shelley 

Lion Hunt (produced at U.P.A. studios, 1955), 

3 min., color, sound, [35mm]. 

Blues Pattern (produced at U.P.A. studios, 

1955), 3 min., color, sound, [35mm], 

Performing Painter (produced at U.P.A. studios, 
1955), 3 min., color, sound, [35mm]. 

Catalog (collection of computer-graphic effects, 
1961), 7 min., color, sound: Ornette Coleman. 

Hommage to Rameau (computer graphic, 1967), 
3 min., color, sound: Rameau's “La Timide" 
and “Premier Tambourin'' from Pieces De 
Clavecin En Concerts. 

Permutations (computer graphic, 1968), 8 min., 
color, sound: Indian tabla music by 
Balachandra on 16mm prints. 

Experiments in Motion Graphics (prepared as a 
silent film to accompany lecture at Aspen, 
1967; narration added 1968), 13 min., color, 

Osaka 1-2-3 (computer graphic, 1970) 3 min., 
black-and-white, sound: kabuki music. 

Matrix l (computer graphic, 1971) 6 min., color, 
sound: Antonio Soler sonatas arranged and 
performed on piano by Delores Stevens. 

Matrix II (same computer graphic visuals as 
Matrix I, 1971) 6 min., color, sound: music 
from Terry Riley's Rainbow in Curved Air. 


Matrix III (computer graphic, 1972) 11 min., 
color, sound: music from Terry Riley's 
Rainbow In Curved Air. 

Hex Demo (computer graphic, 1973) 3 min., 
black-and-white, silent to accompany lec- 
tures, demonstrating digital harmony. 

Arabesque (computer graphic, 1975) 7 min., 
color, sound: Manoocheher Sadeghi. 

Permutations II (computer graphic footage of 
Permutations re-edited, 1979) 7 min., color, 
sound: original score composed by William 
Kraft. This version available on videodisc or 

The 16mm films listed above are available 
in 16mm prints and videotapes from 
Pyramid Films, Box 1048, Santa Monica, 
California 90406, (213) 390-3456. A 
videodisc containing three films by John 
Whitney (Permutations II, Matrix I, and 
Arabesque) is available from MCA Disco- 
vision, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal 
City, California 91608, (213) 985-4321. 

226 Filmography 


Adams, Henry [American author (1838-1918) 
fascinated equally with the mysticism of the 
Middle Ages and the dynamism of modern 
technology (Europe vs. America) which he 
wrote about in Mont-Saint-Michel and 
Chartres (1904) and his autobiography The 
Education of Henry Adams (1906), espe- 
cially the chapter “The Dynamo and the 
Virgin. “1 1. 

Addison, Joseph [British author and statesman 
(1672-1719), collaborated with Richard 
Steele on two journals. The Tatter and The 
Spectator, which are the prototype of mod- 
ern newsmagazines, containing reviews, 
features, etc. J 191. 

Albers. Josef [German artist (1888-1976), 
studied and taught at the Bauhaus, emigrated 
to U.S. 1933, taught at Black Mountain, 
Harvard and Yale. Noted for color theories 
outlined in the book Interaction of Color 
(1963) and demonstrated in the series of 
paintings “Homage to the Square."] 89. 

Alexeieff, Alexander [Russian animator 
(1901- ), working in Paris, developed 

pin-board animation technique for films 
illustrating Mussorgsky's Night on Bald 
Mountain (1934) and Pictures at an Exhibi- 
tion (1972), both in collaboration with Claire 
Parker.] 22n. 

Alice in Wonderland [classic novel for chil- 
dren and adults interested in logic, written 
by “Lewis Carroll" who was actually 
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), 
British mathematician. In one scene, Alice is 
ordered to play croquet according to court 
etiquette, with flamingos as mallets and 

hedgehogs as balls, which proves too 
inefficient for her Victorian bourgeois taste, 
albeit whimsical and diverting for the 
aristocrats.] 39. 

Anschultz, Dr. Dean. 8. 

Aristotle [Greek philosopher (384-322B.C.), 
rival of Plato, associated with rationalism 
and proto-scientific investigative spirit that 
believes everyday, physical phenomena con- 
stitute essential, enduring, provable reality.] 

Art in Cinema Festival ISan Francisco 

Museum of Art, 1946; catalogue edited by 
Stauffacher, 1947.] 144. 

Art Nouveau glass [especially the iridescent 
favrile glass of Louis Comfort Tiffany 
(1848-1933) was produced by secret pro- 
cesses, and only in the 60s were successful 
imitations made.] 159. 

Bach, Johann Sebastian [German composer 
(1685-1750) who, with George Frideric 
Handel (1685-1759) and Antonio Vivaldi 
(1678-1741), brought Baroque musical 
forms to perfection.] 25, 118, 126, 194. 

Ballet Mecanique, see Leger, Fernand 

Bass, Saul [American graphic designer 

(1920- ) noted for striking titles to many 

Hollywood features, as well as his own short 
Why Man Creates (1968) and his science- 
fiction feature Phase IV (1973).] 156, 183. 

Bauhaus [Noted German school of design 
(founded 1919 by Walter Gropius) that 
promoted pure and simple, abstract and 
utilitarian “modern" look. Kandinsky, Klee, 
Moholy-Nagy, and many other distinguished 


artists taught there. Closed in 1933 by 
Nazis.] 21, 31-32, 151, 165, 172. 

Beethoven, Ludwig van IGerman composer 
(1770-1827) whose brilliant career bridged 
the Classical and Romantic eras. His Pas- 
toral Symphony was visualized by Disney 
in Fantasia as a mythological idyll with 
female centaurs wearing lipstick.] 1, 22, 
24-25, 117, 126, 207. 

Belgium Experimental Film Competitions 

(1949, 1958, 1963) 161-166, 177, 180. 

Belson, Jordan [American abstract filmmaker 
(1926- ), mounted pioneer “light 

shows” {Vortex Concerts, 1957-9), created 
series of films {Allures, 1961-present) mix- 
ing scientific and mystical allusions in dy- 
namic, mysteriously polymorphous flows] 
144, 180. 

Berg, Alban [Austrian composer (1885-1935), 
disciple of Schoenberg from 1904, using 
atonal and serial principles in chamber 
works and two operas Wozzeck (1914-1921) 
and Lulu (1928-1934)] 68, 151. 

Bertoia, Harry [Italian sculptor (1915-1978) 
lived in U.S. since 30s, designed famous 
molded chair for Eames Studio, noted for 
monumental and small metal sculptures, 
many of which create musical sounds when 
parts touch together] 138. 

Boulez, Pierre [French composer (1925- ), 

student of Messiaen, espoused serial music 
and, as conductor, promoted avant-garde 
music.] 15. 

Bowman, Jack. 9. 

Bradley, Will [American Jazz musician 

(1912- ) and composer whose hits in- 

clude Celerx Stalks at Midnight ( 1 947 ) j 
177, 217. 

Brakhage, Stan [Prolific American experimen- 
tal filmmaker (1933- ) who pioneered 

the handheld subjective camera as an 
“abstract expressionist” tool in such films 
as Dog Star Man (1961-4) and Thigh Line 
Lyre Triangular (1961).] 164, 200. 

Bronowski, Dr. Jacob [Polish mathematician 
(1908-1974) and Philosopher of History, 
perhaps best remembered for his Ascent of 
Man (1973) book and video series] 158. 

Bute, Mary Ellen [American animator 

(1908- ), made abstract shorts for Radio 

City Music Hall 1936-1957, later live-action 
features.] 22. 

Butterfield, David. 9. 

Cage, John [Radical American composer 
(1912- ) noted for experiments (many 

related to Taoism and Buddhism) with 
chance factors, noise and nonmusical 
sounds, silence, electronic music, and con- 
ceptual pieces.] 1, 16, 26, 39. 

California Institute of Technology (CalTech) 
170, 172. 

California Institute of the Arts. 32. 

Cartesian co-ordinates [a system for making a 
graph or map on a two-dimensional surface, 
using an X-axis and Y-axis on 2 sides of 
the graph. Named after its inventor Rene 
Descartes, French mathematician and philos- 
opher ( 1596- 1650)] 47-48, 51, 55, 65, etc. 

Cathedrale engloutie, see Debussy 

Chartres, see Gothic 

Chomsky, Noam [American linguistic philoso- 
pher (1928- ) and professor at M.I.T., 

noted for positing Transformational or 
Generative grammar.] 33, 41-42. 

Churchill, Sir Winston [British Statesman and 
amateur painter (1874—1965)] 35. 

Cinema 16, see Vogel 

Citron, Dr. Jack [of IBM, L.A.J 8. 

Clark, Sir Kenneth [British Art Historian 
(1903- ) and curator of the National 

Gallery in London. Author of many distin- 
guished books of art criticism, but perhaps 
best remembered for his book and video 
series Civilisation (1975).] 158. 

Cologne Festival of Electronic Music (1951) 

Color organs [Instruments for producing color 
imagery. Theorized by Leonardo da Vinci 
and Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680), among 
notable practical models were Louis Castel's 
clavecin oculaire (1720), A. Wallace Rim- 
ington's color organ (1895, used by Scriabin 
1914), and Thomas Wilfrid's Clavilux 
(1922). 14, 22, 48, 139. 

Conrad, Tony [American experimental film- 
maker (1940- ) associated with Struc- 

tural Film Movement through such films 
as Flicker (1966).] 138. 

Constructivism [Russian abstract art move- 
ment, sponsored by Vladimir Tatlin ca. 1917, 
which favored pure primary shapes and col- 
ors, and modern materials. Influential on all 
other abstract art, Bauhaus, etc ., and the 



name is often used to designate all non- 
objective art. ] 17, 172, 203. 

Copernicus, Nicolaus [Polish astronomer 

(1473-1543) who pioneered the idea that the 
Earth revolved and orbited around the sta- 
tionary Sun.] 158. 

Cuba, Larry [American computer-animation 
filmmaker (1950- ), whose films include 

First Fig (1974), 3178 , (1978), and Two 
Space (1979).] 8. 

Dada [Art movement ca. 1915-1923 bent upon 
the outrage and destruction of bourgeois 
worship of traditional art standards. Leading 
proponents included Marcel Duchamp, Man 
Ray, and Francis Picabia (1879-1953). 
Dadaists merged with Surrealism ca. 1924] 

4, 39. 

Debussy, Claude [French composer (1862-1918) 
noted for his reaction against Wagnerianism, 
and his use of whole-tone harmonies in his 
“impressionistic" tone poems Afternoon of 
a Faun (1894), The Sea (La Mer, 1905), 

The Engulfed Cathedra I (Cafhedrale Fng- 
loutie, 1910), etc.] 24, 68, 85-86, 205. 

DeMille, Cecil B. [American feature film direc- 
tor (1881-1959) associated with Holly- 
wood spectacle movies such as Ten 
Commandments (1924 and 1956) depicting 
the Hebrews' exodus from Egypt.] 201. 

Dewey, John [American philosopher ( 1859— 
1952) who expounded Pragmatism, and ad- 
vanced psychology and educational theory.] 

Disney, Walt [American producer of children's 
films (1901-1966) noted for his studios' 
Mickey Mouse and feature-length cartoons, 
among them Fantasia (1940) in which sym- 
phonic music was illustrated by cartoon 
figures. See Oskar Fischinger] 126, 163. 

Duchamp, Marcel IFrench artist (1887-1968) 
associated with Dada, whose radical ideas 
(the “readymade," art as idea, etc.) have 
dominated contemporary arts.] 147-148, 21 L 

Eames, Charles (1907-1978) and Ray, his wife 
[American designers whose studios won 
many prizes for furniture, exhibits, films, 
graphics, etc. ] 11. 

Eggeling, Viking [Swedish artist (1880-1925) 
associated with Dada, made “constructivist" 
films Horizontal-Vertical Orchestra (1921) 

and Diagonal Symphony (1925)] 22. 

Eisenstein, Sergei [Russian film director ( 1 898— 
1948) famous for his montage theories dem- 
onstrated in silent political features like 
Potemkin (1925) and October (1928), and 
his sound epics like Ivan the Terrible ( 1 943— 
1946) which depicts, with operatic rapport 
between Prokofiev's music and “artful" 
stylized imagery, the historical defeat of the 
Boyar noblemen.] 201. 

Experiments in Art and Technology [EAT] 
30-31, 171-172. 

Fairbanks, Douglas Sr. [American movie star 
(1883-1939) famous for roles in swashbuck- 
ler movies like Mark ofZorro (1921).] 54-55. 

First West Coast Computer Faire, San Fran- 
cisco, 1977. 7, 213. 

Fischinger, Oskar [German abstract animator 
and painter (1900-1967), moved to Hol- 
lywood 1936, proposed idea for Disney's 
Fantasia and designed wholly nonobjec- 
tive Bach fugue for this feature, but Disney 
changed all geometric forms to look like 
objects, and Fischinger quit. Won Grand 
Prix at 1949 Belgium Experimental Film 
Competition for his abstract Motion Paint- 
ing.] 22, 138, 163, 174. 

Flaming Creatures (1963) [American experi- 
mental film by Jack Smith (1932- ) 

which portrays the agonies and ecstasies of 
a transvestite underworld; created a sensa- 
tion, banned, etc., when first shown.] 164. 

Flemish Polyphonists ]a school of composers, 
including Guillaume Dufay (1400-1474), 
Johannes Ockeghem (1420-1496), Josquin 
Des Pres (1440-1521) and Orland di Lasso 
(1520-1594), noted for their intricate motets 
and choral works.] 25. 

Fontana, Lucio [Italian artist (1899-1968) who 
blurred the boundaries of painting and 
sculpture by piercing canvases, building pro- 
jecting “sculpture" pieces onto painted can- 
vases, arranging happenings, etc.] 211. 

Fuller, Richard Buckminster [American ar- 
chitect (1895- ) noted for promulgation 

of the geodesic dome, as well as ecological 
and philosophical speculations.] 67, 193, 


Futurism [Italian art movement (1909-1915) 
which espoused modern technology, 
dynamic movement, noise of machinery. 


etc.] 203. 

Gabo, Naum [Russian constructivist sculptor 
(1890-1977) emigrated to Berlin, Paris, and 
U.S.] 211. 

Gaudi y Cornet, Antonio [Spanish architect 
(1852-1926) noted for his fanciful and or- 
ganic buildings. ] 125. 

Generative Grammar, see Transformational 

Gericault, Theodore IFrench painter ( 1791— 
1824) who, with Eugene Delacroix, brought 
to fruition the Romantic taste for exoticism 
and turbulent drama, especially in The Raft 
of the Medusa, 1819.] 37-38. 

Gillespie, Dizzy [American jazz musician and 
composer (1917- ) whose hits included 

Hot House (1945).] 178. 

Glass, Philip [American composer (1937- ) 

noted for his intricate rhythmic structures, 
especially his opera Einstein on the Beach, 
1976.] 72. 

Goldmark, Peter [American engineer ( 1906— 
1977), developed the long-playing record for 
Columbia, contributed substantially to color 
television technology. With CBS until 1971] 

Gothic Rose windows architecture [13th cen- 
tury. Huge circular stained glass windows 
containing abstract imagery of the Mystic 
Rose grace many splendid cathedrals, nota- 
bly those at Chartres and Nctre Dame at 
Paris.] 1, 109, 205. 

Grant, Dwinell [American abstract filmmaker 
(1912- ) whose Compositions (1940- 

1949) were recognized with a Guggenheim 
grant.] 138. 

Gregory, Saint JPope (590-604) who estab- 
lished rigorous rules for permissible church 
music that yielded the “Gregorian Chants."] 

Group de Recherche d’art Visuel. 164. 

Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. 177, 


Haydn, Joseph [Austrian composer ( 1732— 

1809) who, with Mozart, brought to perfec- 
tion the rococo classical forms.] 16. 

Hitchcock, Alfred [British film director 
(1899-1980), worked in Hollywood since 
1939 on dozens of suspense thrillers includ- 
ing Vertigo (1959)] 183. 

Hoyle, Sir Fred [British astronomer (1915- ) 

who propounded the steady-state theory 
of expanding universe r.v. creation of 
matter, and also the theory that more com- 
plex elements were created by fusion of 
hydrogen atoms. ] 202. 

I Ching [Ancient Chinese Taoist Scripture, 

“The Book of Changes," designed for prog- 
nostication by casting lots.] 32. 

IBM [Originally Computing-Tabulating-Record- 
ing Co., since 1924 International Business 
Machines Co.] 29-30, 129-130, 179, 181. 

Islamic pattern and design. 1, 39, 109, 113. 

Ivens, Joris [ Dutch documentary filmmaker 
(1898- ) who began making “poetic" 

shorts like Rain (1929) before graduating to 
feature-length documentaries in the 30s. J 
22, 157-158. 

Jolson, Al [American actor-singer (1883-1950) 
whose 1927 movie The Jazz Singer was the 
first commercially successful sound film.] 13. 

Kandinsky, Wassily [Russian painter ( 1 866— 
1944) who pioneered abstract painting in 
Germany, taught at the Bauhaus, and moved 
to France in 1933.] 17, 37-38, 125, 138, 211. 

Kepes, Gyorgy [Hungarian artist (1906- ), 

M.I.T. professor, whose works include experi- 
mental photography, Fire Orchard (1972) 
a 20-foot field of gas jets synchronized to 
Sir William Walton's music, and books such 
as Language of Vision (1944) and The New 
Landscape in Art and Science (1956).] 158. 

Kim, Scott. 9. 

Klee, Paul [Swiss painter (1879-1940) associ- 
ated with Kandinsky in the Blue Rider 
Group (Munich, 1911) and teaching at the 
Bauhaus (1921-1933): noted for whimsical 
abstractions, and his theoretical writing 
Pedagogical Sketchbook (1925).] 89, 203. 

Knokke [site of the Belgium Experimental Film 
Festivals, q. v. J 161. 

Krenek, Ernst [Austrian composer 

(1900- ) whose music has encompassed 

romantic, neoclassical, jazz, atonal and se- 
rial modes. Emigrated to U.S. 1938. Studies 
in Counterpoint (1940) includes a pioneer 
explanation of the tone-row principles.] 151. 

Lai, Augustine. 9. 

Lascaux [Site in France of some of the best 



preserved and most numerous prehistoric 
cave paintings. ] 84. 

Ledoux, Jacques [curator of Royal Belgian 
Film Archives, and Director of Belgium Ex- 
perimental Film Festivals ] 138. 

Leger, Fernand [French cubist painter ( 1881— 
1955) who favored mechanic, metallic 
imagery suggesting the dynamism of 20th 
century. His film Ballet Mecanique (1924), 
composed of shots of machinery, still life 
arrangements and human actions (especially 
the washerwoman loop) edited rhythmically 
with no plot, is a touchstone of avant-garde 
cinema. J 21, 72, 101, 111. 

Leibowitz, Rene [French composer and con- 
ductor ( 1913- 1972), pupil of Webern and 
Schonberg, major promoter of serial music 
in France through his compositions, his 
productions and performances, and his book 
Introduction to 12-Tone Music. ] 1, 174. 

Leonardo da Vinci [Italian artist (1452-1519) 
and Renaissance Man, whose secret note- 
books contain sketches and speculations 
about all sorts of machinery, from “airplanes” 
to “bicycles” to “color organs.”] 14, 22, 139. 

Levi-Strauss, Claude [Belgian anthropologist 
(1908- ) associated with Sartre's exis- 

tentialism, and propounder of Structural 
Anthropology.] 205. 

Lissajous curves [shapes produced by the 
intersection of two curves at right angles 
to each other. Name for Jules-Antoine 
Lissajous (1822-1880), but in England 
called Bowditch curves after Nathaniel 
Bowditch (1773-1838).] 76, etc. 171. 

Lustig, Alvin, [leading American typographical 
designer, and early mentor of the author. 
Taught at California School of Fine Arts 
(later San Francisco Art Institute) and Art 
Center College of Design. Moved to New 
York in 50s: designed book covers for New 
Directions, and redesigned Look magazine. 
Died young in 50s. | 156. 

Lye, Len [New Zealand animator and sculptor 
(1901-1980) who drew directly on film 
(abstract Color Box, 1935) and pioneered 
optical printing techniques (Trade Tattoo, 
1937). Worked in England and U.S.] 22, 


McLaren, Norman [Scotch animator 
(1914- ), worked for National Film 

Board of Canada since 40s, producing many 
popular animation films in all styles, includ- 
ing some abstractions drawn directly on 
film.] 22, 163, 177, 217. 

McLuhan, Marshall [Canadian social phi- 
losopher (1911- ), best known for the 

“medium is the message” theory of Under- 
standing Media (1964).] 138. 

Mahler, Gustav [Austrian composer ( 1 860— 
1911) who extended Wagnerian principles in 
his monumental symphonies.] 68. 

Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig [German mod- 
ernist architect (1886-1969), taught at the 
Bauhaus, promulgated famous dictum “Less 
is More,” and pioneered glass skyscrapers 
of “skin and bones construction.”] 125. 

Minsky, Marvin L. [American computer scien- 
tist (1927- ), educated at Harvard and 

Princeton, since 1964 at M.I.T. as director of 
the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. ] 124. 

Moholy-Nagy, Laszlo [Hungarian constructivist 
artist (1895-1946), taught at Bauhaus, and 
emigrated to U.S. 1937 where he founded a 
“New Bauhaus” school of design in 
Chicago.] 211. 

Moire [from French “watered": illusionary 
patterns created when two or more other 
patterns overlap] 51. 

Mondrian, Piet [Dutch painter (1872-1944) as- 
sociated with de Stijl. He named his refined, 
severe abstraction (only primary colors on 
rectanguale grids) neoplasticism. ] 125, 147— 
148, 195, 201, 211. 

Moritz, William. 10. 

Morton, Lawrence. 10. 

Mosxkowski, Richard. 9. 

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus [Austrian com- 
poser (1756-1791) who, with Haydn, 
brought the classical rococo style and forms 
to perfection.] 16, 55, 194, 203. 

Museum of Modern Art, New York [Founded 
1929; since 1935 pioneer film department 
with study and preservation programs, 
and since 40s, a distribution system.] 144, 
176, 180. 

Musical Offering, see Bach 

New American Cinema [Independent Film 
Movement of the 60s, centering around 
Jonas Mekas and Film Culture . ] 32-33, 


Newell, Paul. 9. 


Newton, Sir Isaac [British mathematician 
(1642-1727) who formulated “laws” of 
gravity, etc. ] 15. 

Notre Dame, see Gothic 

O’Doherty, Brian. 11. 

Oldenburg, Claes [American Pop Artist 
(1929- ) noted for his whimsical soft 

sculptures and happenings.] 31. 

Pascal [computer language] 7, 9, 97, 129-130. 

Pastoral Symphony, see Beethoven 

Pierce, John R. [American mathematician and 
computer scientist (1910- ). Doctorate 

CalTech, where, since 1971 he has been 
Professor of Engineering at JPL. Writes 
science fiction under the name J. J. Coupling] 

Plato [Greek philosopher (428-347 B.C.) who 
reported and probably amplified the teach- 
ings of Socrates (470-399), which favored 
the existence of absolute, independent 
“forms” that are truly perfect and immor- 
tal, while everyday reality is an unsatisfac- 
tory partial reflection of these forms.] 125, 
201 . 

Polar coordinates [a system for making a 
graph or map of a three-dimensional, spher- 
ical object on a two-dimensional working- 
surface.] 49-51, 55, 65, etc. 

Pollock, Jackson [American painter ( 1912— 
1956) who perfected “Abstract Expression- 
ism” or “Action Painting” by pouring paint 
directly on canvas without brushing, as a 
dynamic document of the painter's mood 
and movement.] 21, 37-38, 211. 

Pomona College, California. 1, 174. 

Port Royal Grammer [a philosophical 

grammar formulated in 17th-century France 
by the Port-Royal hermits who wished to 
find common denominators among all lan- 
guages, and hence prefigured modern Struc- 
tural Linguistics and Transformational 
Grammar.] 41. 

Pythagoras [Greek philosopher (582 B.C.-ca. 
500) who posited natural laws of harmony 
and number. Left no writings, but his cult 
developed into virtually religious pro- 
portions, and as late as 50 A.D. a temple of 
Pythagoras was suppressed by the Roman 
Emperor Claudius.] 1, 4-5, 15, 65, 81, 113, 
191, 217-218. 

Rameau, Jean Philippe [leading French 
baroque composer (1683-1764) noted for 
harpsichord music and opera-ballet 
spectacles. His Treatise on Harmony (1722) 
first verbalized “inversions.”] 191. 

Ray, Man [American artist (1890-1976) associ- 
ated with Dada and Surrealism in Paris, 
pioneered photographic techniques, and 
made early experimental films such as 
Return to Reason, 1923] 157, 163, 175. 

Reich, Steve [American composer (1936- ) 

noted for works using electronic delay and 
phasing ( Come Out, 1966) and ensembles of 
similar instruments in which chance and 
planned coordination between different 
performers playing similar material create 
astonishing meshing and unmeshing 
effects.] 72. 

Reiniger, Lotte [German animator (1899- ) 

who made the first feature-length animation 
film Prince Achmed (1926) using a silhou- 
ette technique that she also employed for 
short illustrations of scenes from Mozart's 
Magic Flute and Bizet's Carmen.] 22. 

Riley, Terry [American composer (1935) noted 
for his lush-textured compositions utilizing 
feedback, tape delay and other electronic 
phasing and layering of instruments playing 
hypnotic, repetitive phrases.] 22. 

Rodchenko, Alexander [Russian constructivist 
artist (1891- 1956) who coined the term “non- 
objective” in 1913. J 211. 

Rosenberg, Harold [a leading American critic 
of modernist and postmodernist art 
(1906-1978)] 4-5. 

Rother, Paul. 9. 

Rothko, Mark [American painter (1903-1970) 
whose work is characterized by large serene 
canvases brushed with two colors in contem- 
plative balance between a small rectangu- 
lar space in one color and a “background” 
of the other color, consisting of the canvas 
shape itself.] 21. 

Rozzelle, Ron. 11. 

Ruttmann, Walther [German painter and 
filmmaker (1887-1941) who pioneered 
abstract animation in the early 20s but 
moved into special effects, documentary and 
feature films after the pheonomenal success 
of Berlin in 1927. J 22. 

Sadeghi, Manoocheher [contemporary Iranian 



classical musician] 113. 

San Francisco Museum of Art. 144. 

Santayana, George [Spanish philosopher 
(1863-1952) studied at Harvard under 
William James, later lived at Oxford and 
Rome. A skeptic humanist, his aesthetic 
theories are outlined in several books from 
Sense of Beauty (1896) to Realms of Being 
(1828-1940).] 192, 193. 

Scarlatti, Domenico [Italian composer ( 1685— 
1757), son of opera composer Alessandro; a 
keyboard virtuoso, he wrote numerous 
intricate “sonatas" for harpsichord. Later 
worked in Spain.] 101, 123. 

Schoenberg, Arnold [Austrian composer 
(1874-1951) who propounded radical 
theories of atonalism and serialism. Fled to 
Los Angeles during World War II. Proto- 
type for Thomas Mann's Dr. Faustus.] 1, 5, 
16, 21, 25-26, 68, 151, 159, 174, 204. 

Scriabin, Alexander [Russian composer 

(1872-1915) who fell under the influence of 
Theosophy and composed his Prometheus: 
Poem of Fire (1911) to be performed with 
color visual imagery, e.g. with Rimington's 
color organ, 1914. ] 17. 

Sharits, Paul [American experimental 
filmmaker (1943- ) associated with 

Structural Film Movement through loop, 
flicker and other reflexive films. ] 138. 

Skater’s Waltz, by French composer Emil 
Waldteufel (1837-1915). 157. 

Smith, David [American sculptor (1906-1965) 
trained as auto assembler, specializes in 
sculptural collages and monumental metal 
works.] 16. 

Smith, Harry [American filmmaker 

(1923- ), made a series of abstract films 

in 40s and early 50s, some drawn directly 
on film, some elaborately optical-printed. 
Guggenheim grant. Mid-50s, feature-length 
mystical animation film Heaven and Earth 
Magic with cutouts in Surrealist collage 
style.] 144. 

Smith, Tony [American sculptor (1912- ), 

studied architecture at New Bauhaus, 
Chicago, and apprenticed under Frank Lloyd 
Wright. Noted for monumental. Minimal 
metal sculptures.] 204. 

Snow, Sir Charles Percy [British scientist and 
novelist (1905-1980) whose The Two Cul- 
tures and the Scientific Revolution (1959) 

delineated the credibility gap between art 
and science.] 172. 

Socrates, see Plato 

Soler, Padre Antonio [Spanish composer and 
theoretician (1729-1783) wrote intricate and 
serene harpsichord sonatas that influenced 
Scarlatti.] 123, 216. 

Steinway [19th-century Americn pianos, incor- 
porating iron-frame and the sostenuto pedal, 
considered the state-of-the-art piano instru- 
ment.] 124. 

Stockhausen, Karlheinz [leading German van- 
guard composer (1928- ) whose work 

encompasses serial music, electronic music 
(with use of literal spatial movement of 
music in a quadrophonic context), and ex- 
periments with “parameters," chance ele- 
ments inspired by John Cage. Works in 
Cologne. [ 160. 

Stradivarius [violins made by the Stradivari 
family in 17th and 18th century Italy, still 
considered the most excellent of violin in- 
struments.] 124-125, 191. 

Stravinsky, Igor [major Russian composer 
(1882-1971) whose career (like that of 
Picasso in painting) brilliantly encompassed 
most styles of 20th-century music, from the 
nationalistic Romanticism of Rimsky- 
Korsakov to the serial formulas of Webern. 
Disney used his Rite of Spring in Fantasia, 
illustrating it with scenes of dinosaurs.] 5, 
39, 101, 126, 218. 

“Structural” Film [Reflexive independent film 
movement of the 60s and 70s, posited by 
P. Adams Sitney of Film Culture. Michael 
Snow (Canadian, 1929- ), whose 

Wavelength won the Grand Prize at the 
Belgium Experimental Film Competition 
in 1967, best represents the movement.] 
33-34, 138. 

Structural Linguistics [or simply Structuralism: 
a school of Linguistics based on writings 
of Ferdinand dc Saussure (Swiss, 1 857— 
1913), which attempts to break language 
down into its smallest elements of mean- 
ing, always distinguishing between speech 
(a particular event) and language (the 
general rules). ] 33-34, 42. 

Sutherland, Ivan E. [American computer sci- 
entist (1941- ), doctorate from M.I.T., 

taught at Harvard and since 1976 at Cal- 
Tech.] 190. 


Tatlin, Vladimir [Russian artist (1885-1953?) 
who founded Constructivist movement. 
Worked often as stage and film designer.] 
211 . 

Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich [Russian composer 
(1840-1893), the epitome of Romantic 
music, beloved for his melodious sym- 
phonies, operas, ballets and concertos.] 67. 

TEKniques [Tektronix Journal] 130. 

Thompson, Frederick B. 8, 172. 

Thonet, Michael [German furniture designer 
(1796-1871) who pioneered the concept of 
bentwood furniture, which he mass-pro- 
duced in his Viennese factory. LeCorbusier 
and the Bauhaus much influenced by his 
work in the 1920s, as well as the Art 
Nouveau revival of the 1960s. ] 159. 

Transformational Grammar lor Generative 
Grammar: a school of Linguistics formed 
(partly in revolt against, and partly in exten- 
sion of Structuralism) by Noam Chomsky, 
q.v., which stresses the comparative rela- 
tionships and changes that basic elements of 
language go through in order to mean.] 33, 

2001: A Space Odyssey [ British-American 
science-fiction epic movie (1968) directed 
by Stanley Kubrick (1928- ), in which a 

computer named Hal takes over a space ship 
in flight and tries to kill the crew to hide its 
own error - presumably an allegory.] 126, 
183, 188. 

University of California at Los Angeles 

[U.C.L.A.]. 1, 113, 178, 179, 217. 

Vedanta [Those schools of Hindu philosophy 
that base their discussions around the 
ancient Sanskrit texts of the Vedas, the 
Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the 
Bhagavad-Gita. J 202. 

Vivaldi, Antonio [Italian composer (1678-171), 
genius of the Italian Baroque, composed 80 
operas and some 400 concertos including 
The Four Seasons for strings. ] 101. 

Vogel, Amos [Austrian film entrepreneur and 
critic, emigrated to U.S. 1939, founded 
Cinema 16 in 1947 as a film society to show 
unusual work, and by 1950 began distribut- 
ing many classic avant-garde films as well 
as the best of contemporary works. Cinema 
16 later bought by Grove Press films.] 176. 

Vorkapich, Slavko [Yugoslavian filmmaker 
(1895-1976), worked in Hollywood from 
20s, specializing in dynamic montage 
sequences and special effects. Taught at 
U.S.C. and U.C.L.A. His experimental films 
include Life and Death of a Hollywood 
Extra (1927) and live-action illustrations of 
Wagner's Forest Murmurs (1936) and Men- 
delssohn's Fingal's Cave (1942).] 157. 

Wagner, Richard [German opera composer 
(1813-1883) noted for his theory of "total- 
art- work," expansion of orchestral size, and 
experiments with chromatic harmonies.] 4, 

6, 67-68. 

Webern, Anton [Austrian composer ( 1883— 
1945), disciple of Schoenberg from 1904, 
who used his atonal and serial principles in 
rarefied chamber works.] 68. 

Weizenbaum, Joseph [German computer scien- 
tist (1923- ), in U.S. since 1950. Com- 

posed Slip and Eliza computer languages. 

At M.I.T. since 1963.| 124-125. 

Well-tempered Clavier, see Bach. 

Whitney, Jackie 9-10, 180. 

Whitney, James A. [American filmmaker 

(1922- ), brother of the author, maker of 

acclaimed films Yantra (1955), Lapis (1966), 
and recently an incompleted trilogy be- 
ginning with Dwija and Wu Miny. ] 9-10, 

32, 92-94, 138, 151-155, 180, 186. 202-204. 

Whitney, John Jr. [American filmmaker 
(1946- ), son of the author. Made 8mm 

films (1964); his film Byjina Flores (1966) 
made use of slit-scan techniques; 1967: 
3-Screen Film; 1971: Terminal Self. Cur- 
rently directing the digital scene simulation 
division of the motion picture project of 
Information International.] 9, 181, 188. 

Whitney, Mark. [American filmmaker 

(1950- ), son of the author. Collaborated 

with James Whitney on film about water 
1969-1973; made his own untitled film 
about water 1974-1976. Documentaries on 
Sam Francis's process of painting, Navajo 
Indians, and Carl G. Jung. Intends to renounce 
filmmaking for painting. | 9. 

Whitney, Michael. [American filmmaker 
(1947- ), son of the author. Filmed his 

own paintings, 1964. Abstract computer- 
animations, 1969, Cria and Binary Bit Pat- 
terns. Films on Tai Ch'i master Yin Hsien 



(1975) which contained the first streak pho- 
tography of a motion picture sequence. And 
Wu Shu (1980). Since 1975, working on a 
documentary about Carl G. Jung as remem- 
bered by his colleagues. Since 1968 various 
commercial work, logos, special effects 
(Futureworld), etc. J 9. 

Whitney films: 

24 Variations 144-145, 152-153. 160, 175- 

Five Abstract Film Exercises 92-94, 138, 
144-150, 154, 177. 

Oil-Wipe Films 177. 216-217. 

Catalog 161, 180, 185-186. 

Permutations 196, 204, 217-218. 

Matrix / & II 76-77, 196, 197, 216. 

Matrix HI 75, 78, 196. 

Osaka I, 2, 3, 196. 

Arabesque 7-8, 73, 95, 97-113, 126, 131- 
132, A-XII-16 
Yantra 180, 202. 

Lapis 9, 180, 186, 202. 

Commercial Work 187-188. 

Young, Pearce. 10